Graduate student presents performance art

Thea Meussling, graduate student in ceramics, performed as Tooflady on Bosco Plaza on March 8, 2016. (Photo Courtesy of Molly McEwan)

Thea Meussling, K-State graduate in ceramics, said she knew she had found her passion when she was assigned a small clay project in an art class at R. Nelson Snider High School in Fort Wayne, Indiana. Spurring from her first experience with art, Meussling has now produced a sizable collection of ceramic pieces and has created a unique performance character, played by herself, called Tooflady.

“I used to sit in bars and think about this character I wanted to create,” Meussling said. “Then I would try to sculpt her, but I always thought, ‘No, this is all wrong.'”

In trying to develop Tooflady’s character, Meussling said she has done various exercises playing the part, including a performance on Bosco Student Plaza in March titled “Ask Tooflady.” People could see Tooflady sitting at a table where they could approach her with questions. Meussling answered the questions and talked to people as she believed Tooflady would, telling them she was from various places in the U.S. that don’t exist, such as “the Appalachian Mountains in the southern-most part of Florida.”

In her time performing on Bosco Plaza as Tooflady, Meussling said she smoked 12 cigarettes, chewed seven pieces of gum, ate 16 pieces of celery, reapplied lipstick countless times, listened to hair metal bands and catcalled construction workers.

Meussling said she recalled feeling awful after the performance. She found herself still in character for three days afterward and struggled to know the difference between herself and Tooflady.

“The concept of Tooflady is to shine a light on these people and bring out the positives, but as Tooflady I was basically sexually demeaning these construction workers and compulsively lying to everybody about who I was,” Meussling said. “I was disgusted with that.”

Andrew Casto, assistant professor of art, said Meussling’s decision to pursue Tooflady’s character was courageous and thought-provoking.

Performance art is a “real-life, high-risk form of artistic expression,” Casto said.

Meussling said she is not sure what she will do next with Tooflady, but she is working on how to make the separation between herself and her character clear and apply it to her work.

Meussling said she attended Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis where she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a minor in art history and an emphasis in ceramics in 2011.

“Herron is a hidden gem,” Meussling said.

After graduation, Meussling said she proceeded to have two solo art shows, one in her hometown of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the other in Indianapolis. After graduating college, she applied for a post-baccalaureate position at multiple colleges, eventually accepting an offer at the University of Montana.

“They used an old bread mixer for their clay mixer,” Meussling said. “I mixed 400 pounds of clay in it and thought to myself, ‘Never again.'”

After applying to four graduate schools, Meussling said she was accepted into K-State’s graduate program. Many professors at K-State have helped her grow tremendously through their counsel and feedback, she said.

“She’s very serious about her art and fearless with what she does,” Katherine Karlin, associate professor of English, said. “She’s evolving and figuring out what her role as an artist is in the world.”

Meussling said a search for her own type of perfection is what calls her to break barriers and set new ideas in motion through creating. She said she does not see herself stopping her work or exploration to settle down anywhere permanently for a while.

“I don’t want to find a house to settle in until I’m 45,” Meussling said. “I want to move. I want to see things.”

Though her pursuits of ceramic art and performances as Tooflady have left her exhausted, Meussling said she finds joy in creating.

“Whether I am sitting and making repetitive motions over and over, building large-scale sculptures, experimenting with new materials or developing Tooflady, it’s my curiosity that keeps me going,” Meussling said.