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Martin Owino

"I started as a little kid, going to the forest to collect flowers, roots and leaves," says third-generation batik artist Martin Owino, a Kenyan of the Luo tribe. "Some are cooked, some put under the soil to make them rotten." Dyes are ground from the processed plant materials and applied to raw cotton fabric in a traditional wax-resist technique. Owino made a living selling his batiks at open-air markets in Nairobi and Kisimu in Kenya, and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania. After a visit to Oregon in 2001, he stayed on to work the Northwest art fair curcuit. His depictions of everyday life in East Africa have appeared at Eugene's Holiday Market every year since then. He lived in Eugene for three years, in Oakridge for one, and now lives in Portland, producing batik with dyes sent over by his mother. At age 49, Owino will leave Oregon in January to look after his family's 350-acre farm in western Kenya, the area of the world most severely affected by HIV. "Kids are taking care of kids in the village," he says. "That's why I'm going back." Along the way, he will join his mother and his grandmother Sara in Washington, DC, for the inauguration of his cousin Barak Obama. Look for him in the Obama family contingent.

happening people

photograph and story by Paul Neevel

Eugene Weekly / 31 December 2008

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