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, September 10, 2010

We slow down for rural Kentucky

We spent three peaceful days in rural Kentucky at the Larkspur Press with Gray and Jean Zeitz as our hosts. In the 1970s, as a poet at the U of Kentucky, Gray had worked with Carolyn Hammer at the Anvil or King Library Press and like others who worked there he was inspired to set up his own press, so with his wife Jean he moved to Monterey KY where land was cheap, to get back to the land, farm and do what ever was required (grow tobacco, hogs, constructuion… You get the picture) to set up their own private press to print Kentucky poets.

       Now thirty years and hundreds of books later they are living the dream, letterpress printing and binding poetry on a 12 by 18 C&P in editions of 5-700 copies, working exclusively with Kentucky poets, including their neighbor Wendell Berry.

       While there we printed a broadside together, well maybe it would be more correct to say Gray printed it while we watched. The text is from the 1970s Whole Earth Catalog… The story of Divine Right’s Trip. I had loved that story when I first read it stretched out through the catalog, a few lines at the bottom of each page, and again, later, I read it in paper back form. I had not realized that the author was from Kentucky. Gray knew the author, Gurney Norman, who is currently Kentucky Poet Laureate, and found a passage written by Divine Right’s VW bus, that he thought perfect for a collaboration with wandering book artists traveling in a gypsy wagon.

       Every October Larkspur Press hosts a wood engraving workshop with Wesley Bates. Donna found the class tools, instructional hand-out and scraps of endgrain wood and carved her first wood engraving, which we used in the broadside.

       We had some beautiful weather, and took some time to work on the gypsy wagon. Donna painted Whitman’s quote on the side of the wagon. We are now looking for a travel quote for the other side from a well-known American woman author. Any thoughts?

I fixed the taillights. 

Never told the story of being pulled over in Vermont for driving at night with out proper taillights, did we? The parking/running lights stopped working back in Montana or Wyoming, and I meant to fix them, but you know how that goes…. When we gave the evening lecture in Burlington, with the gypsy wagon parked in front of the library, we had to drive home in the dark. That was the first time on the whole trip that we drove at night. It was 11, a Friday night, and a probably bored policeman pulled us over, you know the drill. About an hour later he let us go with only a warning. Thank you Mr. Policeman. After that I kept meaning to fix them, but we kept moving at a relentless pace (wandering is only a figure of speech some times we should call ourselves the road warrior book artists….) until Kentucky, where everything has time to slow down.

Apparently it is an important piece of info: "Ice cold beer also available on Sundays"....

If you can get to Santa Cruz this Friday night, our town’s Museum of Art and History has a show opening about hand papermaking in Santa Cruz. We have a great display of our work in the show which we are proud of and too bad we can’t be there with you to see it. Check it out and say hi to our papermaking friends John Babcock, Laura Ito, Chuck Hilger and others!


Bonnie K said...

Sounds like your "slow" time in KY was much needed.

So glad that you fixed those tail lights!

Our weather here in East Aurora took a chilly turn last weekend and has continued that way. Time for picking up the knitting needles and working with wool once again...and donning a wool sweater.

I am enjoying your continued adventures.

Anonymous said...

Gurney Norman, current Kentucky Poet Laureate

Glad you enjoyed your time in KY.

Jan said...

Sorry I didn't get out to see the wagon, it looks great. You make a wonderful team, two very talented artists working together in harmony, somehow one and one makes three!

Ken said...

Peter's photo by the presses reminded me of printing class in Jr. High. An enjoyable memory. Wish I could be in Santa Cruz to see your exhibits - I hope to see them another time.

Two ?'s: Did you hear/see anything about Kentucky John Muir Hwy? And, what Whitman quote on gypsy wagon?

Ken & Teri, Birders Homestead

ypsigirl said...

It was great to meet you two in Ann Arbor Sep 12th- jesse and I invited you to the Folk It radio show- I have so many questions about your adventures, maybe when you are back in A2 we can interview you on our local public t.v. show?

Marian said...

Not related, but I wanted to share a link to the photostream of an art-focused, MI-based family who also created a wagon (Wonder Wagon); I don't think they have actually traveled in it. I stopped by the table at the Kerrytown BookFest close to closing yesterday.

{studiobeerhorst}-bbmarie's photostream

kirsten said...

OK not a woman but at least an american!

TS elliot

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

kirse said...


Mary Oliver
not on travel but inspiring the gypsy caravan vibe!
"Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?"

"Instructions for living a life.
Pay attention.
Be astonished.
Tell about it."

"Keep some room in your heart for the unimaginable."
— Mary Oliver

"Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed."
— Mary Oliver (Evidence: Poems)