We had the good fortune of connecting with A. Laura Brody and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi A. Laura, what’s one piece of conventional advice that you disagree with?
A lot of folks seem caught up in the idea that there is a “right way” to do things, and it’s just not the case. For any given issue, there are many solutions, and all of them can be right depending on the circumstances. I like approaching problems and situations as experiments. It keeps me open to possibilities, and makes mistakes less of a big deal.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I turn wheelchairs, walkers, and mobility scooters into sculptural works of art. Each piece can take up to two years to create. My first love was costume design and construction. I love the history, the psychology, and the engineering of costume and specialty craft, and have spent 30 years honing those skills professionally. It’s not the easiest career, but there are usually jobs for those who put in the time and effort. Costume design and construction is all about telling other people’s stories. As the years went by, I found that I wasn’t telling the stories I wanted to tell. I was reluctant to call myself an artist, but I kept being drawn in that direction. When I started to get into disability design, though, I was drawn into a whole new world, and it’s been fascinating. I didn’t see many intriguing designs, and when I asked wheelchair and walker users what they wanted, they weren’t used to having other options so they weren’t sure what to ask for. So I made some alternatives, and learned a lot, and kept making more. When I couldn’t show my work easily because of a lack of accessible gallery spaces, I figured I would need to find others to work with. It took a while, but it led me to developing my own group exhibit and meeting an amazing group of people. Since then, Opulent Mobility has grown from a tiny one-day exhibit to an annual event with international artists. It’s a similar story with the teaching. Sewing, pattern making, and alterations are skills we all can use, but a lot of these skills are dying out. I wanted to teach the kinds of classes I wished I’d had when I got started, ones that taught resourcefulness and truly encouraged people instead of dictating the “right way” of doing things. There wasn’t much space for that in conventional teaching spaces, so I developed courses with a new twist. It’s taking some doing, and moving online is a challenge, but the classes are still growing and we’re developing a real community. I guess I’d want people to know that when I couldn’t find what I was looking for, I found a way to make things happen. That may not be the easiest choice, but when what you want doesn’t exist in the world, what other option is there but to build it?
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The global pandemic makes things tricky, but there are some great places you can still visit! The Huntington Botanical Gardens in Pasadena, Descanso Gardens in La Canada, and the LA Arboretum in Arcadia are open (check first for details and tickets) and can give you a really nice nature boost. We can use all the greenery we can get. My friend Amanda Narcisse at Archer Lion Gardens loves the Lincoln Avenue Nursery in Altadena for plants and gardening supplies, and if you’re looking to set up your sustainable “victory garden” she and Alex will set you right up. Wingwalker Brewing in Monrovia (run by my beau Dave Robkin) is open for delivery and pick up only. They have some fun, unusual brews and a selection of hard seltzers to suit every taste. If you want dinner in the area, most of the restaurants on Myrtle are open for patio dining. Dave and I like The Saltner Wine and Chiccetti (wine and tapas), Thai Divine Bistro, and Grey and Cash for coffee and teas. For authentic Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese food, head down Alhambra way. You will find all that you’re looking for and more. I make regular excursions out to Asia Supermarket and Ranch 99 for coconut milk and fabulous produce. When I’m looking closer to home, Super King has a great produce and deli section. I miss museums, but they are starting to open again- and there are a ton of them here, including the Bunny Museum! Kidspace, the Norton Simon, Armory Center for the Arts, and the Pasadena Museum of History are all nearby. I’m fortunate enough to live near the Angeles Crest Forest, so I do some hiking with the dog each day. It helps keep me sane. If you want to do some hiking, check out the paths that aren’t too crowded so we can all keep our sanity AND keep safe.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
There are so many people who have helped me out, so I can’t choose just one! I recently started putting up video tutorials on sewing, pattern making, and creating art on YouTube. Pamela Vanderway, Amanda Narcisse, and Kate Conklin really encouraged me on this new path. My co-curator Anthony Tusler keeps me honest and updated about disability culture, and he’s a big part of why Opulent Mobility still exists. That’s the group art exhibit I founded that re-imagines disability as opulent and powerful. I am also endlessly grateful to the participating artists. It’s so good to have returning artists like Yaron Dotan, Katherine Sherwood, and Penny Richards, and David Isakson- and it’s such a delight to discover new artists each time!
Website: https://www.dreamsbymachine.com/, https://www.opulentmobility.com/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/a.laurabrody/, https://www.instagram.com/opulentmobility/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/DreamsByMachine/, https://www.facebook.com/opulentmobility/, https://www.facebook.com/a.laura.brody
Heidi Marie Photography, Pam Noles, and Ruth Saravia