Peter and Donna Thomas have been making fine press and artist's books for over 40 years. When they started, as craftspeople at Renaissance Faires, they fell in love with the graceful beauty of "gypsy wagon" caravans that other vendors had made to sleep in or use as booths for selling their wares. In 2009 Peter and Donna built their own tiny home on wheels, designed after a typical late 19th century Redding Wagon. This blog documents their trips around the country, taken to sell their artists' books, teach book arts workshops, and talk about making books as art; as well as to seek out and experience the beauty of the many different landscapes found across the USA.

Peter and Donna started their business in 1977 and made their first book in 1978, so from 2017-18 are traveling to celebrate 40 years of making books with shows in a dozen libraries across the country. See the schedule on the side bar to find if they are coming to a town near you....

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Saturday, March 30, 2019

What Captures the Attention of a Wandering Book Artist?

When we wander our attention has been captured by seemingly random things, (as those of you who have read our blog carefully can attest to.) And we often wonder which of those topics have interested you the most? How about Typography?

A page from the book that Tom and James printed in 2018 at the Palace of the Governors Print shop, featuring prints from Gustave Baumann's original woodcut blocks
Sheet music from a display at the New Mexico Museum of Art
Sheet music again
Our friend Mark has an exceptional ephemera collection, these are old almanacs. But not just any kind of almanac, they are ones published by what he calls "quack medicine" companies. You know, snake oil, magic elixirs and the like. 
Just how many type faces belong in one advertisement?

Or how about the printers and papermakers, university librarians, book arts classes, etc. that we visited:

Tom Leech, from The Print Shop at the Palace of the Governors,
in Santa Fe, NM
What happens in Las VEGAS, NM, stays in Vegas!
Peter in the plaza with a very tall guy
Peter talking to a class in the library at Colorado College,
which includes playing the ukulele book.
Mark and Peter outside the caravan door, talking printing and type, etc. in Sheridan, CO 
Peter talking with Ray Tomasso, who has been our papermaking and printing friend since the 1980s. He is the proprietor of Inter-Ocean Curiosity  Studio in Englewood, CO. He is currently experimenting with CMC-ing wood type.

Or how about pretty stuff we have come across:

Tin work, Las Vegas, NM
Painting inspirations, NM
Super nice landscape painting in Fine Arts Center at Colorado College
Donna looking at a different series of paintings at the Fine Arts Center

Or how about pictures of the caravan out enjoying nature:

Our campsite beside a beautiful rocky bluff to take walks on at the campground at Pueblo Lake State Park, CO
The Rocky Mountains beside us where we parked for the night on the Colorado College campus in Colorado Springs, CO
More like 15 hours
Now tucked in for a few months in Sheridan, CO, thanks to Mark 
And it snowed the day after we tucked it in. The tarp worked perfectly. 

We will be flying back to California tomorrow to make more books and arrange the next trip in October 2019. We will visit Jim and Melody of Old Ways Workshops in Santa, Idaho, visit a 40 year show of our work at the University of Idaho in Moscow, Idaho, and stop in Seattle, Portland and Eugene.

As a sort of afterword to this final post before flying home, for those of you who were waiting to see the pictures of the interesting or curious vehicles we passed on the way, we don't have any because we didn't see any. But luckily, Mark's collection of Quackery ephemera saved the day, as we found this nice illustration of a medicine show wagon in one of the advertisements.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Home again, and again and again. You’ve heard this before…

Leaving Austin, I drove to Dallas, where I spent Friday night playing some great music with one of Dallas’ many ukulele clubs. Then, on Saturday I taught a bookbinding class for a community based art center called Oil and Cotton.

O and C's neighbor, Davis St. Espresso, does not offer Internet so that people will use it as a social gathering place. The idea worked; the place was as lively as a brewpub. I guess a picture would be worth a thousand words.

Dallas is east Texas, but really it is just about exactly mid-ways across the USA, half-way between the Atlantic and the Pacific. (For reference TX is bigger than CA: Texas is 790 miles from north to south and California is 770. Texas is 660 miles east to west while California is only 250. So I had a long drive ahead of me to get to Albuquerque, NM. I soon left behind and . I drove endless hours, bucking headwinds, watching the water and pines of east Texas disappear as I entered entered the flat and dry windblown farmland of central Texas, and then there was only the high desert of west Texas.

I stopped in Clovis to visit the Norman Petty Studios, where Buddy Holly recorded his hits. Clovis is a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. It is really nowhere (did I say that before?) so hard to imagine that the music recorded there (and mostly I mean Buddy Holly’s songs) was played round the globe and influence so many budding musicians in the 1960s (like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.) I was shown thru the studio by David Bigham, who was one of The Roses, the studio band. David actually sang backup on some of Buddy's records. Buddy died at 22 and David was not much older at the time. He told me he spend most of his working life at Walmart, and pretty much never mentioned his musical career because who would believe that he actually sang with Buddy Holley on “Its so Easy to Fall in Love.” He played me the song in the control room, through the original studio monitor speakers.  It was pretty amazing to meet someone like that, but what really sticks with me about the visit was hearing the music through those studio monitor speakers. It was so rich. I am so used to hearing music sound crummy coming out of a little iPhone speaker or its equivalent.

After teaching a bookbinding class in Albuquerque for their book arts group LIBROS, I left the truck and trailer in long term parking at the airport and flew home.

On March 22, 2019 Donna and I fly back to Albuquerque and then we will drive to Colorado visiting Colorado Springs 3/26, Denver 3/27, and Boulder 3/28. We will park the truck and trailer in Denver till the end of June, then drive to Santa, Idaho for Jim Croft's Old Ways Workshop. In October we will return to Idaho for a show of our work at The University of Idaho, then drive home through Seattle, Portland, and Eugene. That’s our story and we are sticking to it. To end this post, here are a few interesting vehicles I encountered on this leg of our trip: The first is Donn’s Depot in Austin. It is a piano bar made out of  3 or 4 train cars that were cobbled together.

The second is the shell of an old bus that is used as sun/rain sheltered outdoor seating for the Davis St. Espresso cafe next to Oil and Cotton.

Sunday, March 3, 2019

Papel Texano's Mad Scientist Papermaker

On this trip I visited Yamandu Ploskonka, a hand papermaker living in Austin.  I became aware of his inventive papermaking when I saw him demonstrating at the 2016 Friends of Dard Hunter meeting in Santa Fe. Originally from Bolivia, Yama made his way TO the USA via the YMCA, and then made his way IN the USA by computer programming. He learned letterpress and printmaking at a young age, was more recently drawn to hand papermaking. He wanted make prints on a quality substrate, and so decided to make the paper himself.

But he did not stop there. He has explored making paper-crete. Even the doors to his studio are made from paper, well actually cardboard, but only cardboard, there is no wood.

Yama is a self taught Rube Goldberg/McGiver/mad scientist who has designed and constructed ingenious bits of equipment to aid in his papermaking. The day I visited he was putting finishing touches on a CMC machine he was building from salvaged parts. I was overwhelmed by his inventiveness: even when reinventing the wheel, he found new creative ways to do it.

Among other things, he has constructed a loom for weaving laid wire using a modified bicycle to twist the wire. And then he used his CMC and laser printers to make the mould that wire was mounted to.

He has modified a washing machine to digest sheet pulp.

This digester also pumps the liquid pulp into a pulper he devised from a garbage disposal and a trashcan.

Then a series of pipes and buckets, modeled after a toilet tank assembly, feeds the pulp into the vat at regulated intervals, keeping the vat’s water to pulp ratio constant.

Then to complete the process, since his moulds do not have backing so cannot easily be couched, he invented an alternate way to get the sheet off the mould. After dipping the mould he sets it on a platform to the left of the vat, with the wet sheet facing up. He then places a pellon on top of the wet sheet, flips over a vacuum box on top of the pellon, and turns it on. That sucks the out the water out of the sheet and draws iff off the mould and onto the pellon. He then places the pellons with paper in a stack to go into a hydraulic press, and then to the stack dryer.

As you can tell. I was impressed. Visit him on Facebook or as Papel Texano.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Wandering Alone: Texas

I have been wandering alone this trip. Donna and I both left home February 12, 2019. I flew to Waco, Texas, where we had parked the gypsy wagon back in November. Donna flew to Chile to travel with our daughter Tanya, who was a high school AFS exchange student there. 

I easily pulled the wagon out of the garage (well really more a car barn). Thanks to Josh Been and his family for its winter home.

The first day I met with Baylor librarian Sha Towers and dropped off our book Piute Creek, which he had just ordered. Here are a few interesting snippets from our conversation:
1. “With a quick glance a person can fool themselves into believing they have seen a painting, but they can’t do that with a book.”
2. One way to classify artists’ books is by their content. There are three general categories: Artists' books are made to a. present something external (politics, environment, etc.) or b. something personal (my life, my relationships, etc.) or c. to create an aesthetic expression (beauty, shape, etc.).

Without Donna, I planned a number of musical events for the trip. That night I led a jug band sing along for the Waco Ukulele Orchestra. A day later I received this nice note from Fred (whose last name will remain anonymous to protect the innocent). “Thank you Peter for an enriching and enjoyable musical experience. I’ll speak for myself and perhaps more when I say, where else can church choir members get to sing (in public) nice bawdy songs like the ones you taught us!” The event was held at the Texas Music Cafe. Chris Ermoian spent his life recording Texas' almost famous rock bands. His work can be seen on his Texas Music Cafe web and facebook sites.

I spent the first night at a Walmart. Not a very auspicious start.

My next stop was Austin. They don’t allow RVs in Walmart’s there. Luckily Mary Boffman, of the Austin Book Arts Center, once again offered me a spot on her street in a part of town called Clarkesville. Just as I was parking an older, white haired lady (and I am 65 so I mean older) was driving by. She rolled down the window and said “You’ve stayed here before and it’s so nice to see you again. I notice you have repainted the wagon since last time.” It’s nice to be welcome.

The Austin Ukulele Society had their monthly meeting on February 14, and as co-founder of the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz which provided their inspiration to start their club, I was an honored guest. Before hand I had dinner at Tyson's Tacos, where ukulele players can sing for their supper.

I visited Kevin Auer’s papermaking class at UT Austin and showed them my tricks, then spent some time admiring the Rob Roy type collection. Here are a couple of fonts I wish I owned.

I taught a weekend class for the ABAC titled “Type and Image”. We used wood type and found cuts to create folded paper booklets.

ABAC had just opened the last time I was in Austin. My class was the last class before moving to a new location. Since I had my trailer pulling truck I was co-opted into helping the ABAC move, and on my last night in town, ABAC member Linda Anderson’s Green Man Coffeehouse hosted a party to celebrate. GM coffeehouse parties always feature a themed music play list. Of course the night’s theme was books. See if you can figure out the connections.