Spaces: Home is where the Art is

By Leila Dougan

A 1950s vintage tow truck with the California license plate “Nomad 45″ stands sentry in Dominique Moody’s driveway across the street from Watts Towers where she lives. The LA-based assemblage artist,  who is legally blind, strides past it and points to a 5,000-pound, flatbed trailer, which for all intents and purposes looks more like a bare theater platform on wheels.

“This trailer is not only going to be a place that shelters me, but it’s actually going to be my art,” she says.

Moody moves about the structure with ease, despite her visual impairment. At the age of 28 she developed a form of juvenile macular degeneration, a genetically based eye condition that has continued to reduce her central vision. She is able to see only within a 10-foot radius;  everything beyond that is a shadowy blur. “Instead of it being an impediment, my visual experience has enhanced my creativity tremendously,” she says.  “While the fact that I have this visual impairment limits the scope of how far I can see, it doesn’t limit where I can be.”



For the past 25 years – nearly half her life – Moody has been in the planning stages for building The Nomad, the name she gives both her mobile home art project and the hardbound catalog about her work. She climbs onto the trailer, marking out with tape on the floor what is soon to be the entrance, the bed and the shower that she and her brother will take on the road this spring.



Moody was initially inspired to create and move into a smaller home by Jay Shafer, pioneer of something called the Tiny House Movement that encourages simple living by moving into spaces as small as 20% of the average American home (the average is 2,700 square feet; he advocates  spaces of about 500 square feet). I’m sure there are people out there who think I’m crazy for living so small but living in this little house has allowed me to totally reinvent my life. Once the heating bills start arriving and maintenance is required, it quickly becomes clear that a little structure is the more affordable way to go by far,” says Shafer, who spends less than $170 to heat his tiny home during cold Iowa winters.

Although the demand for downsized houses has steadily grown over the past decade, banks have yet to acknowledge this trend and routinely refuse loans to those wanting to build small houses, which, like Shafer’s, can be as small as 89 square feet. Moody persisted though, and, using the Yellow Pages and phone, she eventually found institutions that would lend her the start-up costs.

“Building a tiny home was done as a way to honor my spirit and liberate myself from debt, “ she says. “This is my 44th address in my life and some people have actually asked me, ‘are you homeless?’ Because their only connection to someone moving around that much is someone who is literally transient; but The Nomad [which is domicile #45, hence the license plate, Nomad 45] is what is creating my stability.”

Born in Germany, she and her family moved when she was four to Philadelphia, where, in order to make ends meet and provide a home for her eight siblings and mother, her father arranged to take over and rehab badly run-down, but formerly elegant three-story houses. The entire family would fully renovate them in exchange for being able to live in them for free. Moody calls this “sweat equity.”

Growing up in these run-down domiciles is where Moody learned to use basic tools. Her parents and eldest brother taught her how to plank floors, hang doors, peel wall paper and dip glass. In order to have a bedroom of their own, each child had to earn it by doing a good job on the room and restoring it to its former glory. Then they had to find their own furnishings, usually gleaned from thrift stores and what had been abandoned on the streets of Philadelphia.

This is how Moody drew inspiration and evolved into an accomplished and revered assemblage artist. “The trash trucks would come through the alleyways and on the front grills would be what was salvaged and taken from the trash. These men would ornament their trash trucks with old dolls, horns and bicycle wheels. It was certainly not considered art with a capital ‘A’, but it was something very visceral to me,” she says.

Moody is currently selling off her artwork and few belongings, because every inch counts in the tiny mobile home. “As a child moving about, people would ask, ‘why do you move all the time?’ And we knew it was not being seen as positive. We decided to say that we’re nomads, “ she says. “To me the word entails first people’s roots about a way of being on and in the earth, moving about and not having boundaries.”



In the meantime, the trailer has been moved to a local lumberyard where the building of the home has commenced. Sounds of drills and hammers wielded by volunteers, and the smell of wood shavings fill the dimly lit shed.

Her hands grip a power drill and she pushes down on the foundation of the trailer, while Dale Davis, a friend and fellow visual artist, hauls in a large piece of lumber. Referring to The Nomad, she says “art is not separate from my everyday life, it is intrinsic in that because you are living and working in the same environment. Often these are raw spaces, or industrial spaces, and there is beauty in that industry.”

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