It’s not a particularly hot day, but inside the brightly lit, glass-fronted store in Norwood’s new and very hip outdoor “anti mall” we’re sweltering. Two-thirds of the shop is filled with brightly coloured vessels that bring out the profligate part of my personality.  The other is taken up by an oven emitting a molten orange heat.

Bongani Dlamini, the studio’s main blower, is standing with a long metal tube at the end of which is a glob of glowing lava. Dlamini is the culprit. He’s way too close to that oven for my comfort, but he seems at ease blowing into the tube to produce lovely forms.  Smelt means to melt, cast or produce from molten 
material, but this description hardly covers what goes on in the shop.

Bongani Dlamini and Mike Hyam from Smelt
Bongani Dlamini and Mike Hyam from Smelt
Image: Karl Rogers

What business partners Mike Hyam and Martli Jansen van Rensburg do with glass is nothing short of high art. Dlamini is currently studying glass blowing and is doing an apprenticeship at the studio, which also offers workshops for adults and children on glass blowing. Hyam is quick to point out that the small coloured glass paperweights that Dlamini can make in five minutes will take a first-timer up to an hour.

Smelt also offers sandcasting workshops for adults and kids, or corporate team building from four to 140 people. “Martli finished her degree in Fine Arts at Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) in 2000 and received a scholarship to study glass design in Sweden, which has  one of the most established glass-blowing industries  in the world,” says Hyam. “She was my teacher when I studied glass blowing at the same institution.” Both Janse van Rensburg and Hyam continued their studies in Sweden.

“Glass blowing is something you get better and better at the more you do it,” says Hyam. “And the Swedish have brilliant techniques.” Hyam, who was a civil engineer and then an interior designer, decided to study glass blowing – he’s always had a fascination with the material because of the way light falls through it.

“I was doing a short course in drawing at TUT when I passed the glass-blowing studio. I had no idea that the course was on offer there but after I’d enquired about it, I knew that it was exactly what I wanted to do.” And the proof of their passion for glass is in the pudding. The shop is filled with light, love and exquisite objects: vases, baubles hanging on strings and even astriking horizontal pair of decanters designed by Dlamini.

Image: Karl Rogers

The team also produce large-scale works for companies and hotels. They recently made a chandelier for a hotel group that looks like flames frozen in glass and time. Smelt is in its second iteration. It’s been reincarnated from a shop that was at the Bamboo Centre in Melville a few year ago. “This space is far better,” says Hyam. “The magic of glass is the light that illuminates it, and 
The Factory on Grant shop is flooded with it.” Smelt Glass Studio runs an internship programme for emerging glass artists and offers training programmes for aspirant glass blowers. 

70 Grant Avenue, Norwood, Johannesburg
079 267 6300.

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