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American Artist Tuska (1931-1998), as he wanted to be called, asked that his life be shared as an educator. One who never stopped teaching himself, a master of his crafts, shared process and technique, and inspired his students to be themselves.
Born to a Slovakian coal mining immigrant, through the gates at Ellis Island at the beginning of the 20th century, in Yukon, Pennsylvania. Named John Regis Tuska, he was the 8th child of 10 and the only son.
From the beginning, Tuska threw himself into the experience of life. From his early years he learned the determination and perseverance that distinguishes both the vitality and the sheer volume of his life’s work. When the harsh realities of the Depression forced the family to move, Brooklyn, New York became home. Home, where he would spend his youth and education.
Growing up in the Flatbush and Prospect Park areas, his favorite haunts were the Brooklyn library, where as an adolescent, Tuska often skipped school to roam the shelves. There he discovered the worlds of verbal symbolism created by Thomas Wolfe, Ezra Pound and T.S. Elliot, to the Brooklyn Museum, which he always said, "this is where, when I was 11, I had my first drawing class, from a real artist, at the Brooklyn Museum."
Wanting to be as far away from his family of sisters and a father who did not understand his only son, who wanted to make art and read books, gave him a childhood exploring the streets of New York filling his eager mind with the raw experience of humanity and the best cultural feast 1940’s America had to offer.
He attended the Parochial Schools through 8th grade. It was at the prestigious LaGuardia High School of Music and Art (class of 1950) where he discovered clay and began to appreciate the value of education. Leading him to Alfred University.
After a year at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University, he joined the Navy to serve his mandatory military time. For four years, Tuska ravaged the cultural offerings at every port of call. He finished his service in Tokyo, where he discovered the work of the great Japanese potters – Rosanjin, Kawai, Hamada and others. Tuska returned to Alfred University with a renewed level of respect for the art of pottery. He resumed his studies, delving into glaze technology, ceramic engineering and design, and began teaching.
At Alfred, he also met his muse, Miriam Judith Gittleman, who became his wife in 1956. Miriam an equal heritage story, from Newark, NJ. Sons Seth and Stephen soon followed. Tuska received his Masters in Fine Arts in 1960 searching for a teaching position.
Tuska became assistant professor of art at Kentucky’s Murray State University. In 1963, he moved to the University of Kentucky in Lexington where he would spend the rest of his life. As the clear authority in the region on the art of clay and ceramics, he inspired a new generation of artists and teachers. While teaching ceramics, the human form fascinated him and would become the theme of his work and career in many media.
In 1969 Tuska took his first sabbatical, moving to Rome, Italy for the year. Surrounded by the masters of the human form sculpture, Tuska’s career found the medium of bronze and the figure the inspiration and direction for the rest of his life.
His career is bound by four major works, Genesis, 1969, University of Kentucky; Flight of Icarus, 1974, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee; U.S. Senator John Sherman Cooper Bust, 1985, Kentucky State Capital, Frankfort, Kentucky; And the culmination of Tuska’s lifetime fascination with the human form is Illumine, 1995, the largest art installation at the University of Kentucky in Lexington.
From his award-winning works, to his commissioned pieces, to his classes, he forever challenged those around him to see, interpret, and imagine. Until his retirement in 1994, he played a prominent role in the local arts community, working with school children, adults, and University students.
Tuska’s mantra is “Non Basta Una Vita… One Life is Not Enough” and to him one life was not enough for all the things he wanted to say and do, work generated work.
His spirit continues.
Visit tuska.com to learn more about TUSKA and the Tuska Studio mission.
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