We live in a brutal age. The progress of modernism has eradicated all but the barest vestiges of organic beauty from our day to day existence. Life in the Brave New World very often feels like we exist to feed the drab, grey factories of consumerism. Efficiency and convenience are the god-totems of the 21st century. It's difficult not to contemplate how much of so many of our maleficents are borne out of the utilitarian nature of contemporary drudgery.
At its best, art is capable of so much more than a simple pursuit of the aesthete for the sake of appearance. More than exploration. More than craft. Art can be a key component of human healing.
Enter Melissa Gumley, age 28. As the chief designer and owner/operator of Norfolk's newest collaborative art space, ADHD Driven, Gumley manages her own demons through her craft. As such, her hopes and dreams are currently centered inside a fully restored, 30-foot-long, 1965 Airstream Sovereign. While the kernel of her concept began as a fashion design company, she quickly expanded it to include jewelry, accessories, and other bits and pieces of art. "It took me a while to name it,” she recalled. “I struggled with the branding for a long time. When I finally decided on a label for it, I settled on a really literal term because I'm myself extremely hyperactive. I'm always making things and doing things and my brain goes a million miles a minute. My design process is all about translating that hyperactivity into productivity."
Melissa is originally from New Jersey and worked in Philadelphia for a five-year stretch prior to relocating to Norfolk. She studied for two years at Montclair State University in northern Jersey and then transferred to the Art Institute in Philadelphia to complete a degree in fashion design. She had been working as part of a twenty-five member collective based in Philadelphia called Toile Atelier. "There are so many design schools in Philadelphia. An inundation, really, but there are no jobs. The market is just oversaturated. I started off with a friend who had opened a store, carrying only small indie designers. That was the first big thing I did after school, selling pieces out of her store." She cites influences from designers like Iris van Herpen, who works with 3D printing and laser-cutting, but claims her biggest design inspirations are the people who have surrounded her over the years: teachers, friends, and peers.
Gumley established an online presence through Etsy and Depop, but she had her heart set on creating a pop-up mobile environment, a dream which eventually led to the purchase of her trailer. "I love travel and design, so this was a way to make both work for me. I was fascinated by the tiny house movement and I started seeing pictures of Airstreams. Then I found one for sale. The original owner bought it new and had it for decades. The guy I got it from intended to fix it up and restore it, but never had the time. I'm the third owner. It was completely intact from how it was originally manufactured. It ended up needing a ton of work, but it's so worth it. People really react to the classic design of it."
With a soft opening that took place late last month, she's currently planning an event to be held in conjunction with the neighboring Thank You Gallery at the end of December. "I want to bring in some bands. I'm definitely working on it to be a collaborative event with as many groups and people as possible."
"The overall plan is to open up and sell all the stuff that I've been working on in my studio for the past three years, collaborate with other small makers and designers in the area, and give them a platform to sell their work as well." Gumley is adamant that she wants ADHD Driven to be more than just a retail space. She's aiming to create an immersive, walkthrough gallery experience that she will manage as overall curator. "For the first phase, it'll be presented as though it's somebody's house—where you can walk through their living room, but everything you see is for sale. Most people have never been in an Airstream, so it's an experience to explore and discover that all it's own.”
Gumley predominantly creates women's wear: custom, one-off pieces and small runs. Everything is handmade."Because of the small runs I'm working with, not everyone who walks in is necessarily going to fit what I have on hand, so I offer sizing. A client can come in, see something they love, get measured, and then I'll custom create the piece to suit them. I have no tolerance for size shaming. Fashion should be for any body type. There's no such thing as the wrong size."
She takes pride in being a low-waste designer. "I'm zero waste textile-wise and I'm constantly working on methods to get that 100% across the board throughout every aspect. If there are any scraps, they get turned into rugs. I do weavings and tapestries. Anything that's smaller than that—that's not really utilizable in a larger piece—that gets stuffed into pillows. Nothing gets thrown away. Everything gets repurposed and reused."
Her design ethos incorporates lines centered around darker color palettes—blacks and grays with a gothic sensibility. The space itself is much more bohemian. Much of the point of her space is that it doesn't try to be anything too specific. She utilizes an open floor plan that appears highly adaptable, capable of quickly transitioning to new layouts with minimal effort. At it's essence, it's a calming place that seems to reflect the personality of the woman who put it all together. It stands as a testament to the positive influence art can exert. "I really believe in the power of art as healing, as therapy. So many of us struggle with mental illness or other ailments. Art can be a piece of the how we function and thrive despite that. I've seen it in my own life. I see it in the lives of the people around me. I think it's really important that the process of creating is, at the same time, a process of renewal."
The ADHD Driven Airstream Boutique can currently be found at 430 W. 24th Street in Norfolk. For appointments, call 201-417-6488. See Gumley’s fashion pieces online at depop.com/adhddriven and instagram.com/adhddriven.
Photography by Jeff Hewitt