Oregon Cultural Trust

Oregon artist Martha Banyas, 79, dies

Banyas was known nationally for her visionary work in metal arts and enameling: In 2022 she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the national Enamelist Society.

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Artist Martha Ann Banyas, at the Oregon Coast. Photo courtesy Banyas family.
Artist Martha Ann Banyas, at the Oregon Coast. Photo courtesy Banyas family.

Martha Ann Banyas, a prominent enamel artist who had lived in Oregon since the 1970s, died at her home in Oak Grove on Oct. 26, 2023, following an extended bout with cancer. She was 79.

Since the late 1960s Banyas had worked in enamel and cloissoné, a discipline that demands both artistic vision and intense technical skill. Over the years she became known for her mastery of the form, lecturing and leading workshops at prestigious art centers across the country. In 2022 she received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the national Enamelist Society.

She also became a world traveler in pursuit of her art.

“In the early 1980s Martha became interested in Balinese (Indonesia) mask carving, and received a grant to study with a Balinese master carver,” her sister Rebecca Banyas wrote in a memorial statement. “This began a long and rich relationship with the Balinese people. She returned year after year to make art and collect artworks, artifacts, everyday objects, jewelry and textiles. In 1985, she established Apa Ini, a folk art and import business, and held seasonal sales of ethnographic and tribal arts and crafts. She gained a dedicated following of people who appreciated her eye for the rare, unusual and beautiful items she collected. She travelled throughout Indonesia and south Asia, establishing long-term relationships with artists, crafts people, and locals who appreciated her interest in their lives, arts and cultures.”

Martha Banyas, "...only if you tell it...," 2019. Blackboard enamel steel, copper, underglazes. 14.75"wide x 9" high x 1.5" deep.
Martha Banyas, “…only if you tell it…,” 2019. Blackboard enamel steel, copper, underglazes. 14.75″wide x 9″ high x 1.5″ deep.

Banyas was born Aug. 3, 1944, in Cincinnati, Ohio, and grew up in Hillsboro, Ohio. She graduated with a degree in art education from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and later earned a master of arts degree in printmaking from Ohio University.

“She loved horses, drawing, painting, music and dancing, along with a busy social life with friends and classmates,” Rebecca Banyas wrote. “Martha graduated from Hillsboro High School in 1962, with accomplishments playing the cornet, singing in a female quartet (Three Dashes and a Dot), cheerleading and excelling in art classes under the guidance of her beloved art teacher, Mrs. Morris.”

Banyas and photographer C. Bruce Forster married in 1967 and eventually settled in Portland, where Martha established a home studio and taught printmaking and metal arts at Mt. Hood Community College and Portland Community College. The marriage ended in divorce.

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Martha Banyas, "Guardians, Restoring Balance," 2010. Enamel, copper, woodbaking, 8.5" wide x 7.25" high x 2" deep.
Martha Banyas, “Guardians, Restoring Balance,” 2010. Enamel, copper, woodbaking, 8.5″ wide x 7.25″ high x 2″ deep.

In 1983, Rebecca Banyas wrote, Martha connected with an old friend, Michael Hoeye, a writer of children’s books known for his mystery-novel series the Hermux Tantamoq Adventures, about a watchmaker mouse. Hoeye “invited her to go to Paris on a first date,” Rebecca Banyas wrote. “It was the beginning of a loving and enduring relationship. They married in 1994 and settled in a stone house in Oak Grove, Oregon, where together they created a beautiful, light-filled art studio and transformed a large yard into a gorgeous flower and native plant garden. She looked out on her garden from her studio and was inspired by the natural setting and the variety of birds who visited her feeding stations regularly.”  

“A half a century ago,” her friend and fellow enamel artist Merry-Lee Rae wrote in a Facebook post the day Banyas died, “Martha showed me by example that ‘As an artist, what you are creating is your voice. Every piece you make should be a self portrait. That piece will be telling people who you are.’ A few weeks ago she repeated that to me in a dream. Martha Banyas slipped away in her sleep this morning. Martha, the Enamel Goddess, the Mentor, the Muse. The extraordinary human being. Her light will shine on, she has left so many gifts for us.”

Banyas is survived by her husband, Michael Hoeye; sisters Rebecca and Susan Banyas; brother John Banyas; four nephews and one niece. The family will be having a celebration of life for Martha in the Spring. 

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Donations in Martha Banyas’ memory can be made to: Oregon Wild, ATTN: Jonathan, 5825 North Greeley Avenue, Portland, OR 97217 or through their website, oregonwild.org; or to the Enamelist Society, 1875 Old Alabama Road, Suite 1230, Roswell, GA 30076 or through their website, enamelistsociety.org.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Bob Hicks has been covering arts and culture in the Pacific Northwest since 1978, including 25 years at The Oregonian. Among his art books are Kazuyuki Ohtsu; James B. Thompson: Fragments in Time; and Beth Van Hoesen: Fauna and Flora. His work has appeared in American Theatre, Biblio, Professional Artist, Northwest Passage, Art Scatter, and elsewhere. He also writes the daily art-history series "Today I Am."

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8 Responses

  1. My breath is taken away with this. I knew Martha well when I lived in Portland and commissioned two pieces of her beautiful art and wrote and published an article about one of them, a piece that was exhibited in her show at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington, D.C. she was a beautiful and talented gift to the Oregon art world and well beyond.

  2. Thank you for this beautiful tracing of Martha’s life. Do you know if there is going to be a memorial?

    1. Linda, we’re waiting to find out, and will update. Thanks for asking. The family is looking to have a memorial in spring ’24 but hasn’t yet announced a date.

  3. Thank you for writing this. I felt you did a great job of capturing many of Martha’s gifts that she gave all us and her amazing talent and skills.

  4. Martha was such an inspiration to me, both as an amazing, adventuresome, and gracious person, and as an accomplished artist. She will be greatly missed.

  5. Thank you Bob, for this lovely tribute to Martha Banyas. I am deeply saddened by this news. Martha was a dear heart with an incredible mind. She took her art seriously and shared her skills and knowledge generously. I was blessed to know her, share time in our enameling studios, visit her magnificent exhibitions, and have fond memories of our many conversations over the years. This is an immense loss for the arts community. Martha will live on in our hearts and her beautiful art, and will continue to influence the art of so many. Sending love and sincere condolences to her family and friends.💔

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