The Tuska Biography
Michael John Tuscho came to America 1904. As Tuska lore goes, to avoid being hanged as a horse thief in Slovakia. He came with his 12 year old son, John Michael, leaving his wife and two daughters, never to see them again . Coming from Slovakia and that neither spoke any English, the name was heard and recorded as Tusko as they passed through the gates at Ellis Island.
Life in America started in the steel mills in Pittsburgh where as a 21 year old, John Michael saw Cecilia Kuzma at a wedding reception and announced their wedding in the Pittsburgh paper, having never spoken a word to her.
Shortly after they were married, it was Cecilia, who changed the name to Tuska as she thought changing the o to an a would avoid the sure embarrassment when John Michael was arrested for being in a bar room fight.
Ten Children followed.
This is the story of the son, John Regis Tuska was born on January 12, 1931, in Yukon, Pennsylvania, a coal mining community south of Pittsburgh, where his father was now a miner.
Tuska was eighth in line, among nine sisters. As Tuska often said, "women held no mystery after the age of six." When the harsh realities of the depression closed the mine in 1937, the family was forced to move. They moved to Brooklyn, New York, where new worlds opened up to a young inquisitive Tuska.
As an adolescent, Tuska often skipped school to roam the library's shelves. There he discovered the beauty of verbal symbolism and the wonders of the world. A childhood exploring the streets of New York filled his eager mind with the raw experience of humanity and the best cultural feast 1940's America had to offer.
It was at the prestigious High School of Music and Art (Class of 1948) that he began to appreciate the value of education and nurture his interest in the visual arts.
After a year at the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University,
Tuska joined the US Navy to serve his military time during the Korean conflict (1951-1955). Aboard ship, the USS Wasp, Tuska became the editor of the ships publications and eventually became the speech writer for the Admiral. For two years Tuska assimilated the cultural offerings at every port of call. He finished his service in Tokyo, where he discovered the work of the great Japanese potters.
Japan, in turn, aroused and nurtured his creative and inquisitive passion. These influences would carry throughout his career. When Tuska returned to Alfred University in 1955, he came with a renewed level of respect for the art of ceramics.
As he continued his education Tuska met his muse, Miriam Judith Gittleman. Miriam was at Alfred pursuing her own art interests and soon saw the genius and shared Tuska's passion for life. They married on December 27, 1956.
Sons Seth and Stephen soon followed.
Miriam would remain Tuska's force for the rest of their lives.
Graduating with the class of 1960, with a masters in fine arts, Tuska made his decision to avoid the mainstream and chart his own journey in a world where he could teach, be self-taught, and not be demanded upon.
Tuska moved his family to Murray, Kentucky where he began his career as a teacher.
After two years at Murray State, Tuska took the teaching position at the University of Kentucky where he began his 30 year tenure.
A career bound by four public works. Genesis, at the University of KY, was completed in 1969. It is a floor to ceiling tiled wall Tuska created to express the creation of the earth. This was also the year that Tuska took his first sabbatical.
Moving to Rome, Italy for the year, Tuska found his own renaissance. He left as a potter and returned as a sculptor. In Rome, he nurtured his passion for the human condition, which would drive Tuska for the rest of his life.
In 1974, Tuska was commissioned to do Flight of Icarus, for Vanderbilt University in Nashville. While also a ceramic wall, the work now depicts his human exploration based on the mythological story of Icarus.
In 1985, Tuska was commissioned to do the bronze bust of retired US senator, John Sherman Cooper. The work was dedicated and now rests in the right entrance foyer of the state capital in Frankfort, KY.
In 1986 and '87, Tuska recognized his own mortality. Triple bypass surgery, as shown in a self portrait paper cut, One Way, followed a year later by a stroke, as shown in The Stroke. As Tuska said:
Flight of Icarus
"These works make me face my mortality, questioning my motive and reasons for needing to continue finding answers to visual problems. These things seem to help in regaining the strength and will to bring back the equilibrium of person."
Tuska not only regained the physical strength but the desire to continue. His career project, Illumine, on the fašade of the Fine Arts Building at the University of KY, was dedicated on August 25, 1995. 56 bronze figures take the University as its theme and represent generations of activity.
Miriam Judith Gittleman Tuska, my father's force and reason, died on August 30, 1996. Ending a forty year fairy tale of love, Tuska's heart was broken.
John Regis Tuska died on April 30, 1998.
"Tuska's art communicates a passionate longing for clearly understanding life and everything around him. With an undeniable passion for the human body, mind, and soul, Tuska filled every piece of work with a spirit of constant learning, eagerly responding to all he took in".
Non Basta, Una Vita
Tuska Studio is honored to be given the responsibility to share Tuska's life and work.