Kansas State University


Graduate School

Graduate student brings character to life

‘Living With Tooflady,’ a master’s exhibition by Thea Meussling

Original stories by Jacqueline Wallace and Madison Salmans

Thea Meussling, a third-year graduate candidate in the art department, referred to by some as “Tooflady”, presented her master’s exhibition Living with Tooflady this spring 2017 semester.  Meussling’s research is unlike any other type of graduate research; she lived in the Mark A. Chapman Gallery, inside Willard Hall, for two weeks starting March 8 as a part of a master of fine arts exhibition. During her stay at the gallery, Meussling performed live as Tooflady without breaking character.

Meussling is a performance-based artist. She developed an alter ego, Tooflady, to use as the protagonist for all of her work. The Mark A. Chapman Gallery was transformed into Tooflady’s place of residence. The artist was present in the gallery, existing as Tooflady.

Thea Meussling, graduate student in ceramics, performing as Tooflady (Photo Courtesy of Molly McEwan)

Meussling, performing as Tooflady, hosted exhibitions in the Gallery entitled “Living With Tooflady.” These performances included a deviled egg-eating contest hosted by Tooflady, watching WrestleMania XIV with Tooflady, and a costume house party hosted by Tooflady. Throughout the week, the doors to Chapman Gallery were open to visitors to speak with Tooflady one-on-one.

“During the day there were always people in here visiting me,” Meussling said. “I’ve never gone more than 45 minutes without somebody coming into the gallery.”

Meussling did not break character as Tooflady in the presence of visitors in the gallery and tried to convince people she was a real person.

“(Tooflady) is very fearless,” Meussling said. “She likes to ask people questions about themselves and learn about different people while also making jokes, like says she’s from the Appalachian Mountains in the southernmost part of Florida, or that her best friend is Stone Cold Steve Austin.”

Tooflady is Meussling’s alter-ego character that Meussling has been developing over time. Meussling describes Tooflady as a crafty, fearless girl who has an immense respect for the working class.

“She’s a louder version of myself,” Meussling said.

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.”

Meussling’s exhibition was in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Fine Arts at K-State, and is funded in part by the Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences Small Grant Program, a Graduate School grant program designed to support research expenses for master’s and doctoral students in their final year of graduate school.

Read more about Thea Meussling’s Tooflady experiences

Graduate student in art presents performance art piece

Graduate student presents performance art