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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Monday, October 28, 2019

Crankies, Chanterelles, and a Steampunk Party

This portion of the trip took us through Washington and Oregon, and on into Northern California. Seattle was beautiful and had some beautiful weather to share with us.

Besides giving a lecture for Seattle Book Arts Guild at University of Washington and having a table at the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair, and attending the Fifth annual Crankie Festival at the Northwest Puppet Center, we got stuck trying to pull out of the Day Moon Press's driveway where we were parked during our stay. 

In Portland we held a “tiny bookmobile home on wheels” open house at Backstory Books and Yarn, and in Eugene we gave the inaugural King Arts Lecture at Lane Community College. You can see that we pulled the wagon inside the building for the talk. Never done that before....

Then we taught a weekend workshop hosted by LCC instructor Susan Lowdermilk.

We made miniature sheets of paper, miniature linoleum cuts on that paper and bound them as a miniature book. 

Also in Eugene, Donna took a quick walk into the fir forest near Eugene* to collect these beautiful chanterelles. They will be lovely in some soup this winter! 

*a secret spot! 

And to top it all off we went to an elaborate Steampunk theme party where we saw another crankie. What is a crankie? Imagery on a roll of translucent paper, mounted at the ends to shafts with handles is attached and cranked through a picture frame window while being illuminated from the back. The sequence of images that are on the roll of paper tell a story. The first crankies, originally known as moving panoramas, were made in the mid-1800s. There were both small (to be held in the hand) and large (to be shown on a stage) variations and they provided a form of visual entertainment that remained popular until the invention of movies.

Is a crankie an artists’ books? In his lectures, Peter often compares the field of artists’ book to that of music: There is a huge range of musical styles; from non-melodic jazz to nursery rhymes, from rap to Gregorian chant, all different, but all considered “music”. It is the same with artists’ books; there are many forms; from digital zines to letterpress printed fine press, altered books to literary shrines. And what about crankies? According to Peter, it all depends on whether the creator made it as a book, or as a work of theater. 

Talking about art, just before the California-Oregon border we visited a shop selling burl wood where they made the wildest buildings with twisty wood.

And then we finally reached the California coast. It was almost 2 years ago that the truck and trailer left the state on the start of this fourth and final wandering book artists trip - and we could tell they were glad to be almost home.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Papermaking in the Snow

We have started on what will be the final leg of our ten-year project traveling the country as wandering book artists, and our first stop in Moscow has really tested our mettle as book artists, and by that I mean what I say.

Doug Richards Potlach music instructor

The University of Idaho is in Moscow, Idaho, where there has been a show of our artists’ books on display in the special collections library since August. We arrived in town the first week of October to see the show and provide some programming for the library.

Peter and Donna with UI Librarian Ben Hunter

That’s where we were tested: the first thing did was meet with Potlach High School music classes to sing some of our books arts folk songs and talk about our careers as book artists.

Next we spoke at UI to a graduate seminar where we were asked to discuss how being book artists has informed our avocation as musicians.

Following that we gave a gallery talk/lecture in the library about the work in the show, and then finally we met with a evening class of art education students, teaching accordion binding structures they could use with students in the classroom using materials on hand. Whew!

Then the next day when we were demonstrating papermaking in the library courtyard it started to snow. 

Ever make paper standing outside in the snow? We’ll tell you one thing, the water is cold!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Wandering Alone: Colorado, Utah, and Idaho

In July 2019, as Donna was wandering the wilderness of California’s Sierra Nevada (backpacking and painting new books), I wandered the roads of America’s west,. I drove alone, taking the truck and caravan from Denver to Moscow, Idaho, in preparation for our fall trip through the Pacific Northwest, which is to begin in the first of October with a reception for a show of our work at the University of Idaho’s Special Collections Library.

What did I learn on the trip?

That there are lots of people, everywhere across the country, who love books, and there are lots of books everywhere across the country…..

Ray Tomasso's house
Ken Sanders Book Shop

That there are lots of incredibly interesting artists, everywhere across the country.... Like print and papermaker Susan Mackin Dolan, who lives near Vail, Colorado.

Susan's laser cut block, and wood block print on her handmade paper

Like graphic and installation artist Bob Bissland, who I stayed with near Logan, Utah.

Like Jim Croft who puts on the Traditional Old Ways Workshop in Santa, Idaho.

That it is a long drive from Denver to Moscow (not the one in Russia.)

And that the drive from Denver to Provo Utah is probably one of the most beautiful drives in the country, but I would have to be an Ansel Adams to be able to capture that beauty in a photograph.

And by the way, we will be traveling through the Pacific Northwest in October 2019, with stops in Moscow from Oct 6-10, in Seattle Oct 11-15, in Olympia Oct 16, in Portland Oct 17-18, in Eugene Oct 19-23, and in Arcata Oct 26-7. We will be back in Santa Cruz in time for Halloween.

The caravan, tucked away for a few months in Potlatch, Idaho, until we return in the fall.

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.