We have been making fine press and artist's books for over 30 years. When we started, as craftspeople at Renaissance Faires, we fell in love with the "gypsy wagons" that other vendors had built to sleep in or to sell their wares from. We built this wagon in 2009, designed after a typical 1900s Redding style English Gypsy Wagon. We are now traveling around the country to sell our books, teach book arts workshops, talk about books as artworks and to seek out beauty in the USA.

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Won't have anymore until next season

The title is not referring to the weather. It is supposed to stay cold for the next few weeks. What it refers to is small portable electric heaters. Our little heater bit the dust monday. (Or should I say bit the snow?) We went to Home Depot to get another. The clerk said we don't have anymore. I asked when they would have them in and she said won't get them in until next season. That means September or October. We went to Walmart and found the same reply. Lucky we have our trusty propane heater. The inside temperature of the caravan is 38 in the morning!

Wine with friends at the Folk School
We are getting ready to move on from the Folk School, where we spent 2 weeks. We can't tell you enough that being here is the best thing! You should try it. We love the people, the classes, the music and dancing. Right now as I write this, in the background there is a class in clogging. So fun.

A fresh coat of snow. I guess the solar panels aren't doing much...
Peter's class at the folk school was great. They played a mini concert at the end of the week and wowed the other students with their abilities after one week of instruction and playing together! They played kazoos and a stump fiddle and Peter's can!

The 'can' with whistles, kazoo, harmonica and more!
Peter's uke class, kazoos and all

Here is a video of the "Brasstown Polka!!!"

Donna took a tile class, where she learned various surface techniques like slip drawing, stenciling and scrubbing.
Donna's ceramic tiles from a week at the folk school

The obligatory caravan object from a week of tile making

Peter loving the beautiful snow around the caravan
Now we are ready to travel on to Tennessee. I think the snow is clear from the roads enough now!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Arctic Blast Catches Wandering Book Artists Unawares

If we were in California right now we would be enjoying warm spring-like weather - but we are in North Carolina, at the John C. Campbell Folk School, and we are in the snow. It's been snowing and down to the single digits some days, icy and windy with blue skies other days.

Snow in the Campground
But don't worry (everyone here is. They keep asking, "Are you staying warm?") We are warm and dry in the caravan. We will be camped at the folk school, taking and teaching classes, for 2 weeks. Hopefully when we get back on the road on the 28th of February weather will be warmer and drier. Are we wishful thinking? You bet!

Peter and Micahlan jam in the evenings, Dee Dee clogging!
The evenings have been spent jamming and contra and square dancing. This is a picture shows Peter sitting in on an old time music jam playing his homemade Jug Band Can. Who would have guessed that old timey musicians would let a can player set in with them?

The days have been spent in the craft classes: Peter was in a ceramics class, Donna in a stained glass box making class. Next week Peter will teach uke and Donna is taking a tile making class in the Arts and Crafts tradition.

Donna's glass work
Donna's glass box (with hinged top!)
Peter's ceramic cups
I know we have stated this before, but just in case you missed it, the John C Campbell Folk School is an awesome place to learn a craft, or music, or dance, or cooking, the list is almost endless. Here with about 75 others, you take one of about 8 classes offered for a week in one discipline. The instructors are first rate, the facilities top notch, and the folks here lots of fun. Join us next year, in the end of March when Peter will come back to teach another ukulele class.

Felted hats made in the felt class this week.

Black ash baskets made in another class this week.

If you are interested in taking a class from us in Nashville:

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Almost back on the road

Hi everyone,

We are ready to start a new trip... almost. First we will be showing our books at the CODEX Book Fair in Richmond, CA. 

On February 15, 2015 we will fly back to the gypsy wagon, which is currently parked with our truck in Winston-Salem, North Carolina and we will start a westward trek. Our first stop will be the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, NC where Peter will teach a week long introduction to the ukulele class. After leaving Brasstown we will head to Chattenooga to teach a class, then Middle Tennessee University in Murfreesboro, Nashville, Louisville, St. Louis, Memphis, Arkansas, Texas, New Mexico, Utah, Arizona and home. If you are on our route and would like to meet up with us let us know. Send us an email or call!

While we have been home, between the last two trips, we have been having a great time playing music with several bands. This last winter we started a jug band called the Mariposa Trolley Drops and have been leading monthly sing alongs.

Here is a link to a part of a song by part of one of the bands: 

Before we left on the last road trip we made a CD  titled Book Arts Folk Songs, which had 14 songs about the book arts, that I had written, in the folk song tradition, based on the tunes and lyrics of popular songs. We performed these as sing alongs on our last road trip and look forward to more book arts sing alongs on the upcoming trip. Here is a link to more about book arts folk songs:

While home this fall and winter we have been constantly working on new book projects. Donna has made several a one of a kind books, and an editioned book with only 5 copies using original water color paintings she made in Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. The text is a poem by the poet ranger Jay Leeming that has been hand written in a calligraphic manner. 

I have been working on an editioned book, which will have about 50 copies. This book reprints by permission of the poet, Gary Snyder, his seminal poem Paiute Creek. Gary Snyder drew much of his early inspiration from his studies of eastern religions, and to acknowledge this debt we will print the poem on a single, very long, sheet of paper and bind it using a scroll binding structure.

Before writing this post I was just searching the internet and found that a fellow named Frank Cost, who is  a professor of photographics arts and sciences at the Rochester Institute of Technology, had  posted a video on youtube about his visit with us when we were on campus at RIT last September. Here is a link to his post:

One last word about book and media. The next issue of Fairie Magazine will feature an article about us and our travels in our gypsy wagon. Here is a link for the magazine:

Hope to see you on our travels,

Peter and Donna Thomas

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Home. Well…Halfway Home.

This trip is officially halfway over. Last Friday we left the wagon parked nestled into a little “Fibber McGee Barn” in Winston-Salem and flew home. That makes it sound so easy. Too bad we didn’t get any photos of us jacking up the roof of the barn so the wagon would fit, or of the maneuvers require to back down the moss covered, steep s-curve drive to get into the barn.

Statistics for this trip? Here are the important ones. We were gone 59 days, traveled 7000 miles through 23 states, stopped at 34 universities, and hosted 5 book arts folk song sing-alongs.

Books art sing along at Friends of Dard Hunter conference.

We took some great photos that did not make it into their chronological blogs. So as not to waste them -here they are.

West to Mid-west:

Burroughs adding machine artwork. Utah State. Logan, Utah
The poet’s family manufactured these machines. 

Camping at Jellystone Park, nr. Grinnell, Iowa

Lords grain silos. Indiana

Mad Anthony. Fort Wayne, Indiana

We tried several times to get a good picture of our wagon with an Amish horse and buggy. 
But they moved too fast and this is the best we could get. Indiana

Not so Mid-west:

Donna in piano crosswalk. Oberlin, Ohio

I have friends in a band called the Tailgaters and took this to send them. nr. Buffalo, NY

Spotted my namesake at the Tug Boat Festival. Albany, NY

New England

At Hampshire College they provide solar power for visiting gypsy wagons. Amherst, MA

Old library space. Hampshire College. Amherst, MA

New library space. Hampshire College. Amherst,  MA

Sign. Hampshire College. Amherst, MA

Bierstadt’s Hetch Hetchy painting. Mt Holyoke College, MA

Peter as king in bag of flour. Norwich, VT

Evening open wagon event. New Haven, CT

East Coast (Mid-Atlantic)

Food truck and wagon. State College, PA

Donna and flower. Botanical Gardens. Washington DC

Philadelphia street early morning. Philadelphia, PA

Finally, sad but true, we never encountered any other tiny homes on the road this trip. One day we thought we did, but it proved to be only a garden shed on a flat bed truck.

Highway. Altoona, PA

So that's it for the photos. We will return to the gypsy wagon in mid-February 2015 and make our way west, visiting universities not covered in snow. Our first stop will be teaching a week-long introduction to ukulele class at the John C Campbell Folk School. Come join us.

Latest release: Our book, "The Alder" was featured as a "pick of the week" at University of Wisconsn, Milwaukee: Click here to see the article.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Do ya think it is time to go home?

We are nearing the end of this trip and want to tell you about a couple of less than nice experiences we’ve had, just so you know that not all is always rosy on a wandering book artists’ road trip across the country, starting out with a campground host saying, "I didn't think that was your trailer, you look like a normal person." We are wondering what kind of person she was expecting....

Unfortunately, campgrounds are hard to find near the big cities in the east, so we spent many nights sleeping in Walmart parking lots. At least is is somewhere legal to park for the night, and they let us use their restrooms. I hate to say it, but every now and again we even buy something there. In Philadelphia, our Walmart lot had a beautiful waterfront view.

Sunrise from the Walmart in Philadelphia
Before we got to that Walmart we stopped for dinner in a park by the Delaware River. Donna had already started cooking when we were told that the gate gets locked at sunset, and we had to leave. So in the middle of cooking, Donna placed the pan full of hot food in a cupboard and we pulled out of the park. It was isolated, surrounded by freeway and factory and the only place we could find nearby to park was next to a roofing shingle manufacturer where everything had a horrible tarry smell.

We wanted to spend the weekend in a campground near Princton and Rutgers. But there aren't many campgrounds in that part of New Jersey. We found one in Cheesequake (a sloppy modification of a Native American placename). The park was beautiful. Those East Coast trees were turning colors, we had a flat parking spot and plenty of space. But wait, "What is that dull roar?" It turns out there’s an interstate right behind those beautiful trees, and on the other side of the campground is a 4-lane highway. Then the hot campground showers were only lukewarm. There were no electrical hook-ups and the sun wasn’t out so we couldn’t recharge the battery with our solar panels AND it cost $30 a night!

Cheesequake State Park, New Jersey
On an un-named campus Donna thought she would get a photo of that cute golf cart with the two security guys stuffed inside and the orange triangle slow moving vehicle sticker on the back checking out our illegally parked wagon. Peter asked if we could take the picture. "No." Apparently while they are on duty they cannot have their picture taken. Oops, Donna had already snapped a shot, shh.

Curious security guys

On the way to the University of the Arts we took this picture. What it doesn’t show is how hard it was to drive around narrow crowded city streets in Philadelphia, or that we blocked morning commute traffic to snap the picture!

Downtown art, Philadelphia
Here's another: After visiting the first library of the day at Haverford, we were relaxing in the tree-shaded, quiet and peaceful parking lot, waiting to go to our next appointment. A woman jogging by glances in the open door and burst out saying, "I already love you." Things are looking good, but then a fellow dropped by and began to talk about politics and conspiracy theories. Who knew that the Philadelphia Irish had ties to Middle East oil barons who have plans to overtake blah blah blah. He was never going to stop and only way we could get out of it was to say, OK! Time to move!" and we started packing up as he talked away!

Donna in wagon at sunrise
Here is the rosy side of things story of the week: It turns out that Rutgers Arts Librarian Megan Lotts really knows how to throw a party! We sat up outside the Mason Gross School of Art and led a sing along of book arts folk songs in the streets of New Brunswick, New Jersey!  One priceless moment was when a young woman passing by said, "I play ukulele!” She pulled a Kala dolphin soprano uke out of a backpack and asked, “Will you tune it for me?”

"Bookbinding gals won't you come out tonight, come out tonight...."
So, yes, it IS time to go home. We leave the caravan in North Carolina for the winter and fly home to Santa Cruz on Friday. We will be back on the road, going across the south, in February.

Touching the Atlantic at the Jersey shore

 San Francisco Bay area friends: We will be playing Book Arts folk songs at the art reception of the Friends of Dard Hunter members exhibition on Fri Oct 17th at 1890 Bryant St Studios in S.F. from 7 - 9 pm. Join us!