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....

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Little Gypsy Wagon on the Prairie

Highway 14 across South Dakota and Minnesota is known as the “Laura Ingalls Wilder Memorial Highway” and that is how we drove through these states. We went from the Badlands National Park rugged landscape:


to a comfy recreation area in the capital city of Pierre, SD, where we camped on mown lawn next to a swimming lake on the Missouri River. We swam at sunset to cool down in what is hot to us, but was only in the 80s. Pierre is where we met the little highway on the prairie, the mostly 2-lane highway 14.

Now I have to tell you how we are met in these heartland small towns. We get lots of looks, but people are careful to only glance quickly at us two aging hippie-types in this very curious trailer? Or is it for the circus? Or perhaps for some upcoming Shakespeare thing? We are parked in the McDonald’s parking lot (free internet) posting blogs or trying to keep up the book business and what an odd picture we present. I sometimes feel self-conscious as I slip from truck seat to caravan back door in my flowing pants and flying gray braids!

But then when someone stops to talk, it is because they really LOVE the wagon and have to know how we got it. All agree that the world needs more color and creativity when it comes to RVs. Here is an RV with a giant pheasant on top! (The pheasant hunting capitol of the world is on HWY 14.)

On Highway 14 you can buy vegies from a farm stand where a WHOLE CASHBOX of money is there for you to put your money in. Not just a slot, like in California. I am writing a thank you note on the whiteboard for the tomatoes, cucumbers, sweet onions and corn.


One more story. We camped in a State Park in Minnesota, down in a hollow by a slow moving river, surrounded by leafy cottonwoods. The ranger said nonchalantly that IF we were to have any severe storm warnings, THEY WOULD LET US KNOW and the safe place would be the big stone CCC-built bathhouse. OK, fine. They will “let us know”. Well, at midnight, the wind whipped the cottonwoods, thunder and lightning happened simultaneously (no “counting out” how far away it was) and the rain came down in tablespoon-sized drops. Folks ran to their cars and waited and watched. It quieted and we all went back to sleep. In the morning we casually asked if it was always so fun at night camping in Minnesota. The campground host said, “Didn’t you hear the warning? We stayed in the bathhouse for 3 hours.” Apparently they forgot to tell our loop that we needed to move. Oh, also that we were supposed to tune into the radio for the announcement.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Big Sky Montana

Yes, it’s true. The sky is big and beautiful in Montana.

We hiked in the sky on Sunday in Glacier National Park on a trail called the Highline Trail, which traverses just under the Continental Divide by Logan Pass. This hike is near the top of my list of all-time favorite hikes. We started out hiking with mountain goats, who are intent on feeding on greenery beside the trail. We enjoyed so many wildflowers, including the millions of yellow glacier lilies covering the alpine slopes. 11.6 miles later, we had descended into a wide watershed with a view of Heaven’s Peak, with its glistening glacier in the afternoon sun. I am very sorry to report that our camera has gone missing from the time in Glacier Park, but we did take some great shots of the hike! Luckily I painted a few watercolors of the scenes and flowers.

Because of a late, cool spring, the grass is still green here on the rolling rangeland. We stayed in the Lewis and Clark and the Custer National Forests yesterday and today. These campgrounds are typical forest service campgrounds during the week: nobody around! The ranger said we probably wouldn’t like the campsites because of the busy road beside it, but when she found out we were from California, she decided we would be fine.We counted about 20 cars passing during the 14 hours we were there…

Speaking of roads, we are traveling the “slow roads”. We followed highways 89, 12 and 212. They are 2 lanes and run right down Main Street in every small town. The natural curves of the landscape are felt in the ride, no big freeway cuts mar the views. We saw deer and pronghorn antelope feasting on the long prairie grasses beside the road. Oh, this is really living!

Driving only about 250 – 300 miles a day is the best way to go across the country. There is time for stops to local antique stores where you might find interesting things like a California hankie,

a woodstove iron panel,

a pressed tin box and other stuff. We leave about 7 am and drive to a pretty spot for breakfast. Here I am shaking off the night before we sit down to breakfast.

We then arrive at our campsite in time for a walk or a music session in the late afternoon. I can’t say I have improved in my bass playing, but we are memorizing a few favorite songs.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Peter, Mary, Thomas, Jim, Donna, Susie and Bob, holding the books we made this week:

We are 2.5 miles down to the end of a dirt road and way into the green spruce woods. Jim and Melody have made this their home for over 33 years, starting by living in a teepee, now in a handmade house. They have lived a simple but labor-intensive life on this homestead where they eat from their garden. 

Melody makes baskets in the spring when the willow shoots are up, she sews warm wool children’s coats in the summer to have for sale in the winter and makes sweet fairies to go with each season from plants from her garden. In the summer Jim leads a workshop in making books by hand in the old way. And that is where Peter and I have been these last 2 weeks. There are 6 of us in this year’s workshop and we are making bone tools, tanning deer hides: (Mary, Bob, Donna, Thomas, Susie and Jim and the stretched out deer hide)

 splitting cedar boards for book covers, making paper: (Bob, Thomas and Susie in the greenhouse paper studio)

 and spinning our own flax sewing thread. This is an amazing time. Jim is a walking-talking encyclopedia of old ways knowledge and the participants are taking every minute to learn and create together. Here are the books we made this week. Mine is the upper right, with a bone carving of Old Faithful on the front cover. Peter's is the mini in the bottom middle with the dark leather spine.

Here is Jim talking up carving bone and sharpening paring tools with Susie and Mary:

If you want to learn medieval bookbinding and live in a beautiful green wood for awhile, check them out! You really haven't lived if you are a book person and haven't spent some time in Santa, Idaho with the Crofts.