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 other vendors had made to sleep in or use as booths to sell their wares from. In 2009 they built their own tiny home "caravan", designed after a typical 1900s Redding style of English Gypsy Wagon. This blog documents their trips around the country to sell their books, teach book arts workshops, and talk about making books as art; and to seek out and find beauty in the landscape of the USA.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

I Sing Behind the Plow

We have just driven the miles and miles across the US. Partly because we have all the appointments in the east, also because we love visiting the John C. Campbell Folk School. First, let's check out the highlights of the last couple of weeks:


The show of our work at the University of Iowa Special Collections Library ran July 6- September 13, 2017. It was the first exhibition of our work to celebrate 40 years of making books. Thanks Iowa, for supporting our work. The second show is at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, running from August 7- October 7, 2017.

Gary Frost, from the conservation department at the U, tries to talk Peter into a questionable repair of the wagon.
Always a pleasure to share our work, here with MFA students of the book arts in the University of Iowa paper making class.
Donna knitting beside the Iowa River, flowing by the University


In Champaign Urbana we visited the University of Illinois and among other things saw an amazing book by a little known jeweler named Ernest Rinzi. It is written in code that has not yet been deciphered. The illustrations were composed by arranging his handwriting to create the image.

You can read more about it on the University Tumbler page:…/ernest-rinzi-all-from-god-…

Cincinnati, Ohio:

Peg Rhein has welcomed us again at her home. She hosted a meeting of the Cincinnati Book Arts Society, with a tour of the wagon, then  potluck dinner and time for sharing work.

Here is Donna showing the book, "Sometimes I Pretend" at the CBAS gathering.
Parked for the night beside Peg's sunflower garden: so lovely.


Berea, Kentucky is a town that is dedicated to craft work, filled with stores featuring the work of Kentucky's finest artisans. On the edge of town, at the Kentucky Artisan Center we found the work of fine press printer Gray Zeitz of Larkspur Press. Displayed in a glass case, just like the jewelry, was one of his letterpress printed and handbound books that feature the poems of  Frederick Smock, poet laureate of Kentucky 2017 - 2018. Gray exclusively prints Kentucky poets and he's been doing it for years. 

Beautiful letterpress books printed by Larkspur Press

We have been visiting libraries across the country, but near Berea we found a very different kind of library:

McHargue's Mill in London, KY
The library of mill stones

 North Carolina:

"I Sing Behind the Plow." That is the motto of the John C Campbell Folk School. We enjoy our work! And this week we have toiled away, learning the craft of cordwaining (that is the archaic description of a shoe maker). The instructors this week were Peggy and Chuck Patrick, of Old Time Way, and we recommend taking a class from them if you can!

Donna on the left, Peter's boots on the right.
Amanda, Donna, Sarah, Rhonda and Kristen in their new handmade shoes!

Cheers! Come join us for a glass of wine in the caravan when we come through your town!

Folk School campsite

Thursday, August 31, 2017

The Wanderer's Eclipse Among the Blackeyed Susans

a beautiful stop on the edge of the plains, Nebraska

We have been traveling for the first two weeks of our 40 year celebration. We are pleased that many special collections libraries will be showing our work. This trip around the country is to visit the shows that are up, show the new books we have made, and talk to students about the rewards of living the book artists' life.

Peter with Jennifer Duncan, Head of Special Collections and Brad Cole, Dean of Merrill-Cazier Library at Utah State University in Logan

Tami Hert, head of Emmett D. Chisum Special Collections, University of Wyoming, and Donna check out some new acquisitions especially pertinent to the history of our National Parks in the west.

The exceptionally beautiful morning driving out into the western Nebraska sandhills.

The encampment we were a part of for the eclipse, in the Crescent Lake National Wildlife Management Area

Always a few inquisitive admirers of the caravan

  Just a couple of eclipse horizon shots from our little hill in Nebraska. I know you have seen some fantastic shots of the sun in totality already!

11:45 am

11:50 am
Unfortunately, the deadbolt lock on the caravan door busted shut, and after struggling to get in for hours, we went to the locksmith to get it broken out and replaced. We were somewhere in Nebraska.

"Pistol Pete" Murphy helped us replace a broken dead bolt on the caravan door. A technical difficulty that resulted in a night in a primitive hotel in the sandhills and lots of hours pounding on the old deadbolt to break it apart, but in the end we have a smooth functioning lock. At least we know that the caravan is very difficult to break into.

In Lincoln, Nebraska, we were hosted by Karen Kunc, who has built a fantastic gallery and studio space: "Constellation Studio"  and is looking for more subscribers. YOU could share this brand new papermaking and printmaking studio! This is one of the prints hanging on the wall now.
Goodbye Nebraska and we will say hello to Iowa next week with a visit to University of Iowa. Click here for info about the program we will be presenting there.

Ken Sanders Rare Books in Salt Lake City
Peter jumping around with the mural at Constellation Studios

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Celebrating 40 Years of Making Books

40 Years of Work: Peter and Donna Thomas

Peter and Donna, book artists from Santa Cruz, California, started their business in 1977. They completed their first book, “The Three Cedars,” in 1978. 2017-18 marks their 40th anniversary, which will be celebrated in libraries across the country with retrospective shows displaying from those libraries own holdings. (A list of those libraries is below.)

In addition, the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee’s Golda Meir Library is producing a bibliography and catalog to accompany the shows. UWM will also host a digital exhibit, with descriptions and images of each of the more than 175 edition books and 350 one-of-a-kind books that Donna and Peter have made since 1977. 

For those unfamiliar with their artistic practice, Donna and Peter make their own paper, letterpress print or hand render the texts, illustrate, and hand-bind their books themselves. They make both edition and one-of-a-kind books that combine the precision of the fine press aesthetic with the structural exploration and artistic creativity found in contemporary artists' books.  

Beginning in August of 2017 Donna and Peter will be traveling to visit those shows as "Wandering Book Artists”. They will also be meeting with community-based and academic book arts classes, teaching book arts workshops, and working with fellow book and paper artists to create collaborative artworks.
Peter and Donna have written this about their past trips:
“We drive a pickup truck pulling a “Tiny Home on Wheels” (which is featured in a book by the same name published in 2014 by Shelter Books). Our tiny rolling home is a finely crafted wooden travel trailer, built in 2009 using local sustainably harvested woods, and decorated with Donna’s colorful folk art painted designs. Although the trailer is our home while on the road, more esoterically it is a physical artwork, and metaphorically it embodies our ideas about the changing nature of the physical book in the digital age.
People always stop us, wondering what it is, and if they can look inside. When conversation turns to what we are doing and what exactly is an artists’ book, we use our rolling home as a metaphor saying, “When people see, or look inside regular RV what do they think? Usually nothing, or, “How practical.” But when people see our caravan they get excited, curious, inspired - something magical always happens. Commercially produced books are like regular RVs, practical and full of information. Artists’ books are like our tiny home on wheels. They inspire imagination, wonder, excitement and do the many wonderful things that art works do.
On campuses we open the door and invite in visitors. The conversations often are about living in small spaces and making do with less, what it means and takes to live a creative life, what or who is an artist, and what is a "book artist"? We keep a blog documenting our travels and conversations as wandering book artists which you can find at:
Resting at home, new paint! See you soon.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The publication party for The Tuckenhay Mill: People and Paper

Saturday May 13th, 2017 was the big day. In the first post we made about our wander to England we explained that about thirty years ago we first met and interviewed some retired hand papermakers from Tuckenhay, a small village in rural Devon, England. On this trip we were back to celebrate the completion of the project to document those interviews, a fine press book we had made titled, “Tuckenhay: People and Paper.” The publication party was at the Tuckenhay Mill, which is now vacation cottages. About sixty people gathered. At least half were relatives of the papermakers we had interviewed, and many others had family members who had worked in the Mill. 

The celebration was all that we could have hoped for and more. It was such a real pleasure to meet the people we had been corresponding with over the last 5 years as we worked to finish up the book.

Peter first told the story of making the book, which involved interviewing the papermakers and then trying to understand the Devon accents, collecting the paper samples from the mill, and organizing hours of cassette recordings into a cohesive narrative. On top of all that, there was a problem with the timing of the publication having to do with the life and death of the last owner of the mill who was so bitter about its bankruptcy!  After that we had members from the audience tell what their connection was to the mill.

One big surprise was to meet John Stevens, who now at 87, was actually the last apprentice at Tuckenhay Mill. If you read the book you will see that we thought Ron Eden was the last, and Ron claimed he was too, but it was really John. And John could tell some good stories, good enough to make us wish we had known him in the 1990s and would have included his stories in our book.  

Another treat was to meet Tom and Pearl Wakeham’s two sons and one of their daughters. Sam and Kitty Cox’s son Pat Cox was there, along with grandson Steve Cox. Steve was the catalyst for finishing up the project. Ron Eden’s two sisters were there, and we met others who had worked in the mill, and some who were children of mill workers. Many of the people gathered had not seen each other for years, so it was exciting for them as well as it was for us. The room was hushed as each got up to tell their story. There was sadness expressed about the mill’s closing, but there was a healing spirit in the room as we listened to the old stories about how this small community had lived and worked together so closely with one another. Names and contact information were exchanged, and we hope that this will be a catalyst for members of the community to connect in new ways. 

Cyril Finn. Photo by Ski Harrison
Kitty Cox. Photo by Ski Harrison

Pearl and Tom Wakeham with their son. Photo by Ski Harrison
We also met local photographer Ski Harrison, who has lived in Tuckenhay since 1975. She had met and photographed most of the people we interviewed. The stories she told us reminded us of how profound the change in the area has been. The papermakers we met were people from the end of an era. Their parents were born before WWI, and when they grew up most people had never traveled further than 50 miles from their home.  Until after WWII there were only two cars in Tuckenhay, one owned by the mill and the other by the mechanic. There were no phones in the houses, and many did not have indoor running water, toilets or baths. People kept gardens and animals for food, fished with nets in the creek, and what goods they did not make themselves they got from the village carpenter, blacksmith or small shops. They relied on one another. And they saw Tuckenhay and its neighboring villages change from being remote and insular, primarily agricultural rural villages, to becoming the home to commuters and vacation home owners, where often people no longer even know their neighbors' names.

Afterward we went down to the local pub where the papermakers had always gathered, to have a pint and talk things over with our collaborators: Steve and Penny Cox, Gillian Fulford, and George Collings.

George shared a few interesting items he had in his memorabilia collection:

Monday, May 15, 2017

Wandering around Tuckenhay

We arrived in Tuckenhay several days early so that we could walk the little paths that the papermakers walked, eat and drink in their pubs, and in general get a geographical sense of the place that we had lived in for years through their stories, but in reality we had only visited briefly, once or maybe twice, and that was over 20 years ago. Let us share what we found...

The first day we walked through Tuckenhay, Cornworthy, and Ashprington

The start of the path from Tuckenhay
The path to Ditisham
The end of Corkscrew Hill near Cornworthy
The church in Cornworthy
Detail of wood work in church.
11th century font

The Waterman's Arms at Bow Bridge, where Tom grew up
Bow Bridge
The stepping stones to Ashprington
The Harborn River below Bow Bridge, at the Tuckenhay Quay
The Maltster's Arms, the papermakers nearest pub

We also went to Dartington, Dartmoor, Dartmouth, and Totnes


Inside the Willow Cafe
Art in Dartmouth