WALNUT CREEK -- Zoe Carpenter always had an affinity for clay, and for what forms that could take shape from her hands.

Despite an interest in ceramics as a child, Carpenter didn't let an early discouraging comment stop her from pursuing the art form that connected her to the earth.

"When I was little, I took a ceramics class and the teacher told me, at the time, that my hands were too big," said Carpenter.

Years later, Carpenter never forgot her love of working with clay, and took pottery classes through Walnut Creek Civic Arts Education. Now, the Walnut Creek resident draws inspiration from Native American art and culture and nature to create functional ware, mostly platters and pitchers and serving bowls.

Visitors curious to see Carpenter's unique take on Native American style can view her functional ceramic art which will be on display at CAE's annual Artists Market from May 2-3.

"I've always been a lover of Native American art and lifestyle, because nothing goes to waste," Carpenter said. "I love the earth-colored clays best that have stability and durability, and feel toasty and warm. Each piece is unique and has its own story to tell."

She said she prefers preparing all of her work hand-building from slabs of clay to working with a potter's wheel.

"I gravitate toward hand-building because it's a lot cleaner and I'm not wasting as much clay," Carpenter said. "I can be more creative. My hands, body, mind and soul are all involved in the hand-building process."

Navajo rugs serve as an inspiration for stamping her designs, a technique Carpenter uses in most of her work.

"My stamps are handmade by using a piece of clay and carving in the designs that I would like to see on my work," she said. "The stamps are then fired in the kiln to bring to a vitreous form that will not stick to the clay when I imprint it. My stamps come from inspirations of nature and Native American art -- rugs, hieroglyphics, paintings or images from everyday life."

Her pots, for example, are designed using handmade stamps she created with inspiration from Indian hieroglyphics and vines.

"The pots remind me of something the Indians may have served fish or bread in," she said.

Another example of her work is called "Water Platter." This platter was made from scraps of clay merged together to form a platter. The platter design is reminiscent of water flowing, designed using stamps that Carpenter made inspired by Indian cave paintings.

Rita Erickson said she considers Carpenter's art both useful and decorative.

"What I find irresistible about Zoe's ceramic pieces is that they are not only functional, but whimsical," Erickson said. "Each piece is unique -- the shapes, the designs, the textures and glaze give each piece such great character. When I am not using it to serve a dish at a party, they are displayed on my walls and on shelves as the unique art pieces they are."

Carpenter said she prefers earthenware and stoneware reflective of the earth around us.

"I am true to functional wear as it directly relates to life experiences important to me," she said. "Meals with friends and families are important, and my work is an extension of myself into the experience. I hope for that same experience to be shared with those who also enjoy my work. It's meant to be used, touched and provides function and beauty. My heart, mind and soul are reflected in my work."

Civic Arts Education and Clay Arts Guild Artists Market
  • WHEN: 5-9 p.m. May 2; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. May 3; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. May 4 (Shadelands) and 10 a.m.-5 p.m. (Civic Park)
  • WHERE: Shadelands Auditorium, 111 N. Wiget Lane, Walnut Creek; Civic Park Studio, Civic Park, corner of Civic and Broadway, Walnut Creek (both locations both days)
  • INFORMATION: 925-943-5846; www.arts-ed.org; www.clayartsguild.com