Magdalene Odundo was born in Nairobi, Kenya in 1950. As a child she lived in Kenya and India. From 1968 to 71 she attended the Nairobi Polytechnic in Kenya, while there she studied Graphic Art. In 1971 she left Kenya to attend Cambridge College of Art in Cambridge, England to continue her study in Graphic Design. Odundo grew restless with this medium and experimented with various mediums.
In 1973 she moved to Farnham, England to attend West Surrey College of Art and Design. At West Surrey she settled on ceramics as her medium. In that first year at West Surrey she had the opportunity to visit the Cornwall Workshop of renowned potter Bernard Leach. Leach was the father of the modern British studio ceramics movement in the 1920's. Marla Berns describes this movement, "as a tradition based on principles of simplicity and purity of form derived from Asian ceramic models."
Because Odundo grew up primarily in Nairobi she was not exposed to the traditional pottery of the rural areas of her country, it was not until she went to England that she became interested in this traditional African art forms.
In 1974 Odundo spent 3 months at the Abuja Pottery Training Centre in Abuja, Nigeria. She studied various techniques of pottery-making including hand-building from Gwari women potters like Ladi Kwali. Odundo went back to England to finish her classes at West Surrey, but returned to Africa in 1975 to do research for her thesis which was a comparative study of women's pottery techniques and of the ceremonial use of vessels. For this study she traveled to native Kenya to study her own people, the Abanyala, a subgroup of the Abaluyia living in Kenya and Uganda.
In 1976 she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree form West Surrey. After graduation she traveled to California and New Mexico where she learned about Pueblo pottery, specifically San Ildefonso blackware and Maria Martinez the most famous San Ildefonso potter.
Odundo spent three years teaching at the Commonwealth Institute in London and then entered the Royal College of Art in London, England to continue her study in ceramics. She graduated with a Masters degree in 1982. In the 1980's Odundo exhibited often in Britain in such solo shows at ICA Galleries in London in 1983, the Victoria & Albert Museum in London in '86 and in group exhibitions such as two shows with Craftsmen Potter's Association of London.
Personal website: magdaleneodundo.com