By Kim Yaged
When I was twenty-one, I shared a studio with my girlfriend, Meg. She was an artist, a sculptor. I’d sit and type while she pressed clay onto a metal armature. Her headphones shielded me from her music and her from my conversations with myself. Mostly, I didn’t pay much attention to what Meg was working on. I was lost in my thoughts and whatever new world I was inventing via the keyboard. She had her world, and I had mine. We enjoyed sharing space while drifting off into our own separate places.
But when the writing was done, the enchanting would begin. I was enamored by Meg’s talent. I still have a vivid image in my head of her hands—molding, smoothing, stretching something common into something extraordinary. I loved watching her work and would ask probing questions or play with her Plasticine, an addictive endeavor. There’s something calming, contemplative, dare I say therapeutic about rolling clay. Perhaps I sensed this on a visceral level because I developed the habit of rolling clay in those pauses between typing while sitting at my keyboard. The rolling led to stretching and eventually pressing bits of clay onto a baby armature Meg made for me.
But, mostly, it’s the sitting at my desk rolling clay between my fingers while contemplating the next words that would emanate from my fingertips that I remember—the scent of the material wafting up to my nostrils, ignoring the bits that stuck to my keyboard when I began typing again, and the occasional glance over at Meg’s hands, mesmerizing in the beauty they were capable of eliciting. Why was I thinking of my first girlfriend’s hands and rolling clay on what should have been your average, dreary December day in New York City? Two words—Seth Tuska.
Seth understands the power of rolling clay and the power of the poetic. He doesn’t think there may be something therapeutic about rolling clay. He knows it. That’s why he began the project One Bead One Story, which uses “healing and empowerment to improve the human condition.” Seth’s mother used to gather friends in their home and roll beads of clay while sharing stories. When Seth’s mother died, Seth didn’t want the tradition to die with her. So, he brought the idea to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and now Seth rolls beads and shares stories with breast cancer survivors, who are also coming to understand the healing power of rolling clay and sharing stories.
Seth is the son of Tuska, one of the most compelling artists you’ve never heard of—yet, and the founder of The Tuska Foundation, a multi-tiered organization that aims to use Tuska’s art to educate, heal, and inspire. In addition to One Bead One Story, The Tuska Foundation provides educational opportunities and space for artists to evolve the imaginary into reality. Most importantly, The Tuska Foundation preserves and shares the work of Tuska, so that his artistic genius isn’t lost to subsequent generations.
Figuring out how to describe an artist’s work is a daunting task. Anyone can make a list of a piece’s attributes – material, size, title, year, and location. But, how does one truly convey the essence of a body of work? Seth explained that Tuska’s art is about the human condition. How does that manifest? For me, it’s in synergies. As Seth told me about rolling beads of clay and sharing stories with breast cancer survivors at the Komen Foundation, my mind drifted to the twenty-one-year-old version of myself rolling balls of Plasticine in front of a clay-tinged keyboard. When Seth shows me One Way, a life-size cut paper piece Tuska made after his open-heart surgery, I think of the paintings of my friend Barbara in Berlin and how much they resonate with one another. But, it’s not just because of my personal artistic references that these works elicit such powerful responses within me. In a flash, my mind goes to senior year of high school and my grandfather lying in a hospital bed drowning in his own fluids, the result of congestive heart failure. Tuska’s work has the power to tap into one’s synapses and evoke those precious moments that had all but disappeared. As Tuska wrote, “The human condition reaches within all of us as we reflect on our own journey and situations.”
Today I had the privilege of meeting with Seth over a cup of my favorite tea. Not only did he provide me with the gift of his presence and a window into his father’s world, but he gave me the gift of memory, not just the recollection of my time with Meg but the creation of a new memory—my time spent with him. That is what Tuska and his art is all about.