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....

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!

1 comment:

Velma said...

i read of your travels regularly. this one seems to encompass so much, landscape, wagons, books!!! and a wonderful bookstore.