TRAVELING IN A TINY HOME THAT IS REALLY AN ARTISTS' BOOK ON WHEELS

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....

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Indoor and Outdoor Libraries in Atlanta

Hiking in De Kalb county park with Julie Newton, a conservator at Emory College, we came upon an outdoor found art gallery. Trails lined with installations, one was a scrolling tree mounted artists'  books. We even found a Free Library.






The Free Library movement is awesome. A little box full of books, mounted on a pole with a roof over it. Books free for the taking. Such a friendly way to share something you love with neighbors, with anyone who passes by your house. When we spent the week in Atlanta both friends we stayed with had “Free Libraries” out in front of their houses. People stopped by on a regular basis, some even exchanging new books for old! Both said that they have regulars that have become friends, and regulars who they only recognize but have never spoken with. Both actually “curate” the libraries in their boxes so the selection will remain interesting. They remove books that have been in the box too long. They both are constantly on the lookout for new books to add, and every once in the while even go buy children’s books to have for one of their “regulars”.



As part of our 40-year celebration the libraries at both Emory and Savannah College of Art and Design had up shows with our books on display.




But then libraries are not limited to books. On our way to Brasstown, NC, at Blood Mountain, in Georgia near the southern end of the Appalachian Trail, we found one more library; a ‘library’ of shoes - hanging from the branches of a tree. Some worn out by hiking from the Canadian border, others hardly worn at all, only for a week or so since the start of the trail a bit south of there, obviously the wrong size or shape for the wearer. And like the little free libraries, these shoes are free for the taking if you can find your size and style, and if you can climb high enough.















Sunday, April 29, 2018

Hidden in Plain View

Walter Hamady, a pioneer book artist, who taught many of today’s practicing book artists (or their teachers) once said that the book was the Trojan Horse of Art. By that he meant that people who claimed they didn’t like or understand art would still look at an artists’ book and admire the cover, the presentation of the text, and the illustrations, and would look at it much longer than they ever would a painting. I claim that by the end of the twenty-first century the book arts will be the dominant art medium, that museums will be gathering dust while libraries will be the vibrant centers of aesthetic experience.

Donna in our booth at the book fair.

We felt a bit hidden in plain view at the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair. We were surrounded by what people really came to see: first editions, incunabula, children’s books, and paper ephemera. When people stopped in our booth they were either completely confused by what they were seeing or excited to find what they had often only heard about. Much like tiny homes, which most people have only seen on TV, many of the book fair’s patrons had heard of artists’ books but had never had the opportunity to see or hold them.



Awakening

One book that caught many a visitor’s eye and drew them into the booth was Donna’s one of a kind book titled, “Awakening.” It measures 9 ¼ inches by 12 3/8 inches by 5/8 inches, and was all hand painted on my handmade paper. It was recently purchased by University of Central Florida.



Parked in various driveways


Walking through Vilano Beach, near St. Augustine, Florida, we began to ponder the connection between advertising signs and artists’ books. They both combine structure and words. There is the common love of typography, and they combination of letterforms with imagery to convey meaning. Before there were artists’ books, perhaps using the medium of buildings and signs was the way people who are now drawn to the book arts found ways to express themselves as artists.



Buildings in Vilano Beach




Post Script

It is so easy to take photos now that I have an iPhone with me at all times. There are always photos that don't easily fit into a blog post. I still want to share. I guess these final photos are kind of like the postscript of a letter.


Alligators in the Everglades and on Naples beach.


Sunday, April 22, 2018

Professor of Books, only in Florida.

The University of Central Florida in Orlando has a lot of students…around 60,000 enrolled students.  (They are #2 or 3 but then whose counting?) I don’t know if Florida can accommodate all of its qualified applicants, but UCF is clearly hosting a diverse population of students and the campus offers a vast array of opportunities for enrichment.



We visited the campus to see the show of our work in the library. 


We had a chance to meet about 1/1000th, or a tenth of one percent of the UCF student body when we gave a talk to a diverse group of students from the art department, showing our books and sharing our thoughts about the history and future of the artists’ book. I think we might have met the most creative percentage!



Giving tours of the wagon we had a very interesting conversation with Ryan Price, one of the graduating students from the printmaking department. I had admired his work in the graduates’ year-end show in the gallery, mostly large painted drawings, but there was one artists’ book. It was made by taking paintings made on both sides of an 18 by 24 inch sheet of art paper, folding them in half, and sewing the folios together to make up the text block. The inner fold showed the whole painting, but the next page spread was composed of two half-paintings.

What Ryan liked most about making his book was fitting the unmatched half pages together and then reworking them so they became a new art work. He liked how changing the sequence could change the story, and how the fragments of paintings took on whole new and different meanings when paired differently.

Ryans talk

I feel assured that future of the artists’ book is secure, with students like Ryan Price embracing the medium.


In nearby Rollins College, Rachel Simmons teaches a book arts class. During our visit we learned that between 1926-1951 Rollins even had a "Professor of Books!" It was Ke Francis a recently retired Professor of Books that got us to Orlando and UCF. The pictures that follow were taken at UCF:











Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Does an accordion by any other name still fold the same?

Our first stop of the trip was at Kennesaw State University in Georgia where we spent half a day with our host Valerie Dibble and the book arts students in a class taught by Hannah Kraus. We had some interesting conversations, revisiting topics I believe are key to the advancement of the book as the dominant art form by the end of the 21st century.

Hanna and Valerie

This was the first book making class for one of the students, Amy, who is a printmaking major. She had fallen in love with the medium, and told us that what she was doing was hard for her other artists friends to understand. She had taken all the prints she had made that semester and combined them in an accordion book. Her roommate, also a printmaker, had seen the book and asked, “Isn’t that a waste of those prints? What are you going to do with this now? To which she replied, “Enjoy it, put it in shows….” Her roommate then said, “But how are you going to hang it on a gallery wall, or stand it on a podium? I can see you must be getting a lot more out of it than I am, probably because you understand the medium.”


Donna commented that she likes Classical music, but because she hasn’t studied it, her appreciation of it is minimal compared to her Classical music playing friends. I remember how my experience looking at paintings in a museum was enhanced once I took an art appreciation class. It is clear that for the book arts to advance we will need book arts history and appreciation to be taught as part of any art history 101 class.


Hannah’s university class’s first projects had been to make a number of different format accordion books. The students told me they made the “pants” book, the “x” book and the “snake” book. I had no clue what they were talking about until they showed me the books. They were simple accordions which I usually describe by the way the cut is made: the “U” accordion, the “O” accordion, the “N” and the “M” accordion. Clearly we need a book arts dictionary. We need to have common terms to talk about what we are making, for art historians or critics to do their work. If any of you reading this are interested in working on a project with me to create a dictionary of definitions for accordion structures and connections please let me know. It is a project that needs to be done.


We are currently in Gainesville staying with hand papermaker Amy Richards. Yesterday she took us to visit Sweetwater Wetlands Park where we saw this anhinga:


Tomorrow we will be heading to Orlando where the University of Central Florida is hosting one of the shows to celebrate 40 years of our making books, the we will be at the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair in St. Petersburg over the weekend. If you are in the area, we hope to see you there.


And finally, if you are a Facebook user you can follow us there by liking our Wandering Book Artists page. We post almost daily while traveling.









Thursday, April 12, 2018

Let the Wandering Begin (again): Utah then Knoxville


Utah:

Brigham Young University in Provo Utah is one of the venues for our 40-year retrospective shows. In mid-March Peter flew out to see the show.


"I gave a workshop and keynote speech for the concurrent 2018 A. Dean Larsen Book Collecting Conference. My hosts were Maggie Kopp, the rare book librarian, and Christopher McAfee the library’s book and paper conservator. Chris and I had first met in the mid 1990s at the University of Alabama (UA), when Chris was a grad student in the Book Arts Program and I was visiting to give a lecture.

Class at BYU

Peter writes: "At that time, in the early 1990s, as the personal computer began to creep into common use, people were constantly asking Donna and I, “Aren’t you worried about the computer replacing the book and putting you out of work?” That constant questioning led to an interesting line of thinking that I found myself exploring ever since. In response I developed a sort of “manifesto” regarding the future of the book, and started sharing my thoughts as I taught bookbinding workshops and gave talks for both community and university book arts programs around the country.


It was on that same day I first met Chris McAfee, as I sat in on a history of the book class being taught at UA, that I came up with the idea of making scrolling books. The teacher was talking about comparing the computer to the book, saying that calling a scrolling computer screen a “page” was like calling an automobile a “horseless carriage” or a radio a “wireless.” We were defining a thing by what came before by until new word, a new language, could be found. This got me thinking about what a book was and was not. UA’s book arts program shared its building with the engineering department, and as I wandered the hallways I wondered how I could get all these engineering majors interested in artists’ books; and I came up with an idea that provided seminal direction for me to explore as a book artists. The book was definitely not what came before it, the scroll. Business majors could relate to scrolling pages. If I made a scrolling book, I would be creating a new word, a new language, as I explored the possibilities created by combining the old and the new ways of combining information and structure. Our latest two books are examples of where that exploration has led. You can find full descriptions of the books and more pictures on our web site.

Piute Creek

Mento Mori

Knoxville:

Today we left California to begin the Spring 2018 leg of our 40 year celebration trip. We flew from San Francisco to Philadelphia to Knoxville (where we left our truck and trailer in October).

 San Francisco Airport

Philadelphia Airport on route to Knoxville

We spent a day tearing down the shelter and getting the trailer road worthy. Then we removed the fence, pulled the truck and trailer out to the road, replaced the fence, and we are ready to wander!




Our first stop will be Kennesaw State University in Georgia. If you are on our route let us know and we will try to meet up.