Artist Shapes Soil To Her Will

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Linda Nannizzi has never been afraid to plunge her hands into the soil and shape it to her will.

The joy Nannizzi find working with working with clay, complements her favorite hobby, gardening.

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Soon Nannizzi will cover her fish in mosaic scales.

"Clay is the material I love to work with, probably because it is the Earth's most abundant raw material," Nannizzi said.

Indeed, as a child growing up in the Marin County hills above San Francisco, Calif., Fannizzi fashioned adobe brick houses for her dolls.

A yellowing newspaper clipping shows the budding artist at age seven in her first sculpting class.

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Nannizzi had only to look into her garden for her model, a Southwest Woodhouse toad.

She loved the feeling of raw wet clay on her hands and was excited to see her finished creation exit the kiln.

Three years after her first class, she spent the day demonstrating how to make a mosaic fish at the Torrance Art Gallery's outdoor booth at the Marin Art and Garden Show.

Nannizzi had fun.

She recalls surprised looks on the faces of some of the adults when she enthusiastically answered their questions as they paused to watch her demonstration.

Her family made frequent trips to Sausalito to see, touch and hear different artistic mediums.

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Nannizzi's work is not all based on the creatures she finds so fascinating in the world around her, she also creates more traditional decorative pieces.

"I think that our culture would be enriched if there were more artists. Art is not frivolous," Nannizzi said.

"Most cultures don't separate art from the rest of their lives -- it's just their work. They don't compartmentalize and separate as we often do," she added.

True to her beliefs, art became Nannizzi's livelihood -- even if at first, the medium that paid the bills was not made of clay.

She majored in art at the University of the Pacific, then moved to the Valley of the Sun to work as a technical illustrator for Sperry Rand and Subia corporations.

In 1980, with her husband Dan's encouragement, she walked away from the drawing table to pursue the art that addressed the needs of her soul.

"Sculpting with clay is magical and mystical at the same time," she said.

Basinski converted their garage into a studio and for the next seven years, Nannizzi made functional pottery. She sold her wares mostly at outdoor shows.

With all those bowls, plates, vases and pots made Nannizzi a name for herself as well as a living.

"I had no problem selling everything I could make, I was always behind," she said.

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An Arizona Mountain tree frog on a Big Tooth Maple leaf, also indigenous to the state.

The move to Diamond Point came in 1987.

Cooler weather meant the clay did not dry out as fast, although she still wraps her creations in the sculpting stage.

She built her own kiln to fire the clay in the bisque and final stages at 1,750 and 2,350 degrees.

Her passion for art and attention to business for the past two decades are allowing Nannizzi to detour from functional pieces and return to the sculpting that whets her appetite.

"I like the way I can use my fingers directly in the clay as tools themselves," she said.

Rich earth tones are the pigments she favors.

When she depicts small creatures, her preference is to work them in a much larger scale to highlight their interesting anatomy.

The continuing extinction of the world's animals concerns her.

"I hope, through my work, there will be a higher visibility of the animal, insect and plant-life we are losing. We are all so interconnected," Nannizzi said.

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