The Boston Globe, USA Sunday, September 03, 2006
Legally blind, he finds new outlets
Kurt Kuss stands beside the dining-room table, which is laden with pieces of his ceramics, in his Brookline apartment. He wears dark glasses to protect his eyes from the bright sunlight streaming through the windows. He has been a professional chef, a baker, a jewelry designer, a potter, and a glass blower. He's also been legally blind for the last 16 years.
``Just because you can't see very well doesn't mean you can't do things," said Kuss, 45, who lost his vision due to complications from diabetes.
``I think, in the back of my mind, I never expected to live this long, so it wasn't a surprise when I lost my eyesight," he said. Despite 15 laser surgeries over two years, Kuss can see things only in extremely high contrast -- black against white or yellow. He describes the impairment as trying to see through several layers of thick plastic wrap.
He made a tough concession when he lost his sight: He gave up his cooking career.
``It was a great creative outlet for me," he said. ``So when it got to a point when I couldn't do professional cooking anymore -- not that I wasn't capable, it was just that I was working with other people, roaring flames, sharp knives, producing an environment which wasn't doing anybody any good -- I thought about changing careers."
Then came college and a pottery class. ``It was a good segue from the chemistry involved in cooking, and just as in cooking, there's a final product, which is a demonstration of artistry and spontaneity."
But it's the tactile nature of the clay that speaks loudest to Kuss -- to be able to tell just by feel how stiff or soft the clay needs to be to create the shapes he wants. It ``enabled me to produce things that don't require me to see it."
He took up jewelry designing in 1998, when he and his wife, Barbara Ceconi, came across a bead shop while honeymooning in San Francisco. Having always wanted a lapis and gold bracelet, he decided to design one himself.
``My wife wouldn't let me try metal working, so beads were the next best thing," he said.
To choose the beads, he gets painstaking descriptions of them from whomever has the patience, he said. He chooses roughly cut stones, which are easier for him to differentiate by feel, and he utilizes his memories of color to create pleasing combinations.
Friends and strangers alike soon noticed the unusual jewelry designs. ``Wandering around, people would ask me where I got them, and then would ask, `Could you make me one?' "
The glass blowing is a more recent endeavor for Kuss.
``I've always wanted to do that, and I've developed in my life this sense of, if you're someplace and intrigued or interested in something, ask the question," Kuss said. On a trip to Murano, an island off Venice known for the craft, he asked in one shop if he could try it.
``After he blew the ball of glass, all the guys stopped what they were doing and applauded and called out in Italian, `Artist! Artist!' " Ceconi said.
Kuss now blows glass as a hobby at the MIT glass plant.
Although his art is beautiful, it comes with a price -- pain. Kuss needs strong light to be able to see anything, but strong light also gives him migraines. But even this doesn't stop him for long, he said.
``The amount of effort that goes into it is far outweighed by the satisfaction of the end result."