(This story was first published in the Jan. 30, 2014 edition of the Vermont Standard.)
By Katy Savage, Standard Staff
HARTLAND — Bruce Locke doesn’t like cutesy paint names — like blackberry pie or lemonade. As a person who has spent his life working with ceramic paint, testing it and teaching it, he likes simple names, like fire red and deep yellow.
Most people here think of Locke as a painter and a teacher. He has a loyal following of people that come to his studio, located in the basement of his home, which sits on a back road.
But Locke considers himself more of a color expert.
“On a day-to-day basis, I can explain the color better than anybody because it’s what I believe in,” he said.
Last week, Locke had jazz music playing in the background as he sat on a stool with a paintbrush in his hands. He squirted fire red paint on the table, a color that chemically wasn’t available when he first started ceramics and started to wet a clay vase with water.
Bruce Locke paints a ceramic vase in his Hartland studio. Rick Russell Photo
“You should never put color onto a dry item,” he said.
Locke started swirling the base around in a circle, moving the paintbrush around it.
He turned the paintbrush around to paint dabs of green.
“There are tricks to everything,” he said.
Before settling down in the small town of Hartland, Locke traveled the world teaching ceramics in Europe and Australia and all around the United States — any studio he could make it to.
“You couldn’t do all the schools that wanted, you could’ve stayed a lot longer,” he said.
He went to work for a company in Baltimore in 1971 with five other artists. His job was to design all day and make pots for magazine ads.
“It never ever got boring, ever,” he said. “It just doesn’t.”
He started working for the Italian paint company, Colorobbia Art a few years later. His job was to test new paint samples, and weed out the paint that didn’t work, that needed to be chemically fixed. Locke wrote directions; detailing how much water to use and what temperature the kiln should be set to for each color. If the paints worked the way they were supposed to, Locke named them and numbered them.
“You just kept going back and forth,” he said.
Locke was connected to the fashion and dinnerware world and was constantly on top of what new colors were coming out.
“If you follow that world you have to know what’s in and what isn’t,” he said.
Inside his home, Locke has an entire wall of paints that he tested and named.
There are also large kilns for pots and pans and small kilns for jewelry. Locke first made ceramics when he was 11 years old with his grandma, who was in a nursing home at the time. Neither of them knew anything about paint, but they learned together. By the time Locke was in high school, he had his own studio in Vermont and he taught ceramics to more than 100 people a night. During the day, when he was at school, he had employees teach classes for him.
Over the years, Locke constantly won pottery awards and he was known internationally, but he stopped traveling and returned to Vermont to take care of his mother. By the time she passed in the 1990s, he had been out of the industry too long to return.
“I just decided to let it die down and do it to enjoy it,” he said.
At his home last week, Locke admires demo pieces and works of art in a glass display case.
“Some things that are the simplest look the hardest,” he says.
Locke still teaches a class every Wednesday night, but only for fun.
“This is my life,” he said. “I will probably always do this.”
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