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....

Friday, May 14, 2010

Utah earth pigment and now home for a short spell

This is Utah Lake, near Provo.

Earth pigment from Utah: it's what we used on our latest broadside collaboration in Provo, Utah. With new friends and printer/papermakers Rob and Georgia Buchert, we drove up a canyon to a red hill near the ghost town of Thistle. We scooped up 4 different colors of dirt, from buff color to a deep, rich browny-red. The idea: use the pigment in the dirt for coloring a broadside we were to print at their "Tryst Press" studio. Rob and Georgia make very beautiful books and broadsides on their own handmade paper and Rob teaches a printing class at BYU. Their printing is precise and their work often features lovely relief-printed color illustrations. They also do job printing, like wedding announcements, and the one I saw looked perfect....

We used a quote by Jack Kerouac from "On the Road" for the text, and the illustration was of Utah clouds. Rob had made with his co-worker Paul some beautiful buff colored paper which turned out to be a beautiful color with the earth pigment. To make the pigment work, we first sifted the dirt with a set of miner's sieves. The resulting dirt was as fine as talcum powder. We printed the clouds in transparent rubber-based printer's ink, then dusted the clouds with the different colors of pigment. Oh so beautiful watching the clouds appear in the soft earth colors!

Here is the set of brass seives.
Me and Paul sifting the dirt.
Georgia, Paul and I 'painting' the dirt onto the wet ink.

Peter brushing the excess pigment off.

Now our first leg of the Adventures of the Wandering Book Artists has come to a close. We drove from Provo to home on Thursday and Friday. We crossed the beautiful Salt Lake valley, through the sagebrush and casinos of Nevada then our senses were bathed in the new green color of all the California foliage. Oak trees have newly leafed and the grasses are all chest high! We will be here about 3 weeks, to go to Strawberry Music Festival with my family, bind more books, leave behind all the unused stuff from the caravan and gather the stuff we forgot, then return to Salt Lake City to re-hitch Paloma and drive north to Idaho!
Utah clouds reflecting in the Salt Lake.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

red desert to the salt lake

We've moved from the red desert of southern Utah into the sage hills and snow mountains of central Utah, where spring is just arriving with yellow mule ears blooming now with gusto. We spent a couple of days in Arches National Park walking amongst the graceful and the more solid rock arches. Peter played uke, I painted some watercolors. We stayed not in the park, but closeby in the canyon (not grand, but upstream from the grand) of the Colorado River. The river there is large but somewhat quiet, before it heads into Canyonlands National Park and then Lake Powell. Peter and I are itching to go into the Grand Canyon again on a raft trip. Who wants to do that with us???
Driving up north to Salt Lake City we passed some "sheep camps," which are houses on 4 wheels that shepherds use in the summer in the high pastures. The wagons we saw were all in disrepair, but still looked charming parked up in the high country.

In Salt Lake City, we are staying with friends Pam and Will Littig. We met them over 30 years ago, when Will, Peter and I were some of the few non-Mormons demonstrating at a festival in northern Utah for a week for a couple of summers. He made us the very nice window in the door of our first caravan, which burned 2 summers ago in a forest fire in Mariposa. Will did and continues to craft leaded and stained glass windows of the highest level. Contact him for your next window upgrade; you will be so happy you did!

On Friday we arrived and parked the caravan outside Ken Sanders Rare Books where Peter gave a presentation in the evening. It was a great talk; different than his usual book arts talk. He talked about the great opportunity that book stores like theirs offer to customers: you can look at all these books as they are meant to be looked at: held by your own hands, read and purchased at your leisure!

This fabulous book store filled with rare, beautiful and/or creative books and book arts is in downtown Salt Lake, and they are central in the alternative book scene for over 50 years. Go visit them sometime or attend one of their many events with well known or up and coming great authors! You can browse freely in the stacks, (not like in a museum or special collections library) looking and reading to your heart's content. Comfy couches and chairs sit smack in the middle of the room. Ken and his knowledgeable staff can help you find stuff when you only remember part of a title like "something something imaginary world of something.." They carry books made by Peter and I and also books by our daughter Suzanne Weinert.

Peter's Note:
This was the first time, in a long time, that I had spoken in a bookstore rather than in a library or a university class. I really had to rethink what I was going to say. I first began to think about how was I going to explain the connection between gypsy wagons and making artists books, and I will tell you a little about that now.
Book stores are organized by subject, so I decided to approach it this way. We began our careers as book artists in the Historical Fiction section, working at the Renaissance Pleasure Faire, where dressed in Elizabethan costumes we demonstrated papermaking and sold blank books. Some of our fellow participants were gypsies, perhaps from the Biography section. Real or not, I will never know, but their colorful clothes with bells clanging, their music and dance, their colorful wagons, delighted us with the images of romantic adventure. We went to the Literature and Non-Fiction sections and read books about gypsies and their wagons. Literature inspired, and we soon made our own gypsy wagon. That wagon is itself now a sort of Historical Fiction book. As it travels down the road, parking in front of book shops, it inspires the imaginations of those who see it.
Now to tie this all back to the books we make. At the talk in Ken Sanders Book Shop, I continued to describe how I was going to be showing them two different types of books we had made. Some were regular published book, one, More Making Books By Hand, would be found in the How To section. It was made to help people learn how to make books. The other, The Muir Ramble Route, would be found in the Travel section, or else the Guide Book section, as it tells how to take an Urban Backpacking trip.
The other type of book, what we call our artists' books, would not be found on any of the shelves in the store because they are not made to tell stories, or share poetry or travel. Very simply, a book artist is an artist whose medium is the book, and an artists' book is their creation. Like a painter who decides they want to make a painting about a tree, the book artist decides they want to make a book about something and they do it. The goal is not to tell a story, the goal is to make a work of art.
Like our gypsy wagon, artists' books may have some sort of function, they may tell some sort of story, the gypsy wagon may get us from place to place, but they are both really created to inspire the imagination and touch the soul.
In Ken's shop there is a shelf for this sort of book. It is a glass display case, because these books call to be admired as objects as well as to be read.

Mother's day:
called mom to wish her a good day and found out she's on a plane to Italy!! (she's got a bit of wanderlust in her too...)
breakfast of eggs benedict (prepared and presented by Aldo and Dimo Littig and Alisa)
hike on the hilltop with the sunflowers blooming
more bookstore
more hiking
more giving tours of the curious passers-by
maybe Vivaldi at the tabernacle this evening....

Thanks mom! without you, this whole adventure would not have been possible!

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Visit and enjoy a National Park soon!

You just can't go wrong. Every park we have seen is just so amazing. The places that have been preserved are all the best wow-spots in the USA. We spent 3 days at Canyonlands National Park in the less visited area of the park called the Needles. The campground in the park was tiny and filled, so we drove to the almost as spectacular campground on BLM land 4 miles down the road. We had our own orange bubble sandstone rock as a backdrop, and the view for miles of the mesas and lowlands of Canyonlands. Here is the beautiful claret cup cactus in full bloom:

 I just loved how the trails wandered through the canyons surrounded by pink, orange and red sandstone spires and walls. Hiking over the sandstone on slickrock was similar to hiking on Sierra granite when you are going cross-country, but the trail is marked with ducks. No, not real ones, but rock pile ducks.

The desert flowers are still blooming after a rainy spring. (snow too, 2 days ago). Here are 2 flowers I don't know!

Sunset on the first night.
Peter played uke while I watercolor painted the landscape. I'm finding that I am learning how to paint the desert. I think my paintings have improved over the last time, which was in the Grand Canyon 4 years ago. I'm hoping to make a few new one-of-a-kind books with desert themes with all the paintings I've done on this trip. There is no shortage of beautiful landscapes to paint!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Snow, Canyon de Chelly, chocolate chip cookies

I’ve been thinking about the concept of full time RV-ing. Arizona is a prime location for snow birds and a prime location for mobile homes and RVs. We’ve met all kinds of RV folks, or just people on the road permanently. So what I am thinking is, if this trip is what life on the road is like, then I’m all for it! We camped in a cottonwood grove campground last night in Canyon de Chelly National Monument, 

after a full day of hiking and painting in the canyon. In the morning, we woke to snow falling. No problem, turn on the nifty propane boat heater we have in the caravan! Then, snow keeps falling, so, bake some cookies! We pulled out at 10 am, but the snow just kept getting thicker until we had white-out and stopped in a parking lot to watch it pass. 

As it lightened, the monoliths of Monument Valley came into view! So we continued into the park as the sun came out and lit up the rocks until sunset. 

Oh, we cooked frozen pizza and ate while watching the sunset from inside the warm caravan.

 Now we are camped where we will happily get to shower in the morning before taking off down the slow roads to Canyonlands National Park. I don’t know if I would ever want to be a full time RV-er, but right now, I am loving it!