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, June 30, 2010

A little more of Pocatello, then Yellowstone

Here is a picture of our Wandering Book Artist’s Bookmobile parked next to the Pocatello Public Library’s Bookmobile. Katherine from Children’s Services is behind this genius idea of heading to the farmer’s market every Saturday and handing free books (donated by other patrons) to every child that wants one. Donna sat with her and she passionately outlined the
value of a public library.

Now, we go to Yellowstone!!!!

Donna and I looked at geysers and hot pots the other visitors looked at our wagon.

We always invite folks to look inside if we find them yearning. After inviting one family in, the dad said, “You are artists, Right?” and the pre-teen daughter said, “This is the most BEAUTIFUL thing I have seen in my ENTIRE life.” Another family flagged us down and the dad said, “My kids want me to buy them one, where can we get one? We stopped to get directions from some rangers and instead of us beginning the conversation, they jump in with, “What’s the story?” I said, “We are on a road trip promoting the idea of more color in campgrounds. RVs are so monochromatic and dull. The ranger said that should go for ranger trucks too. This thing is too white.”

Donna wanted to include these photos of her painting in Yellowstone.

We left Yellowstone late in the afternoon, feeling roasted from wandering all day in the hot high-elevation sun to see the steaming geysers, the bears and the standing petrified tree. After driving an hour or so we stopped on the roadside for dinner at the bend of the Yellowstone River and we were able to back the wagon right up to the water’s edge.

We poured ourselves a glass of wine, just as all good gypsies do and sat in the wagon looking out the door at the mesmerizing river.

“There is someone outside taking pictures,” Donna said. I saw a shadow of the person and stepped out. He was just getting back on his motorcycle to leave, not wanting to bother us. I said, “Would you like to come in?”

“Man would I. You don’t know how much I want to see inside. This really makes my day. I started In the 70s with a school bus. Now I have an RV, but I am kind of living the gypsy life. I make leather hair barrettes and sell them wholesale to western stores. I sold $200 today. I have been going 7 months and have paid for all my food and gas.”
We camped next to the freeway and 2 tipis in Butte, Montana.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Eight Libraries in 5 days – OH MY!

We left Santa Cruz Monday June 21 for Salt Lake City, where about a month ago we had left off our trip to return home and make more books, and had left our Gypsy Wagon parked under a shady walnut tree next to our friend Willy Littig's tomato plantation. Boy, I wish I was going to be here in August! so many tomatoes!!

We first stopped by Stanford University’s Green Library to show our books to the librarian there. Roberto Trujillo is one of the main forces behind the Codex Book Festival, the world’s premier showcase for fine press artists books, which will next be held in February 2011. We encourage everyone to mark their calendars and plan to be there.

We then stopped at UC Davis Shields Library and met with John Sherlock, who paused for a moment to pose with Donna by a student book art sculpture in front of the library. Donna and John are bonding with the face buried in a book..


After sleeping the night at Sierra Hot Springs (hot soak too!) we drove to Reno and met with Donnie Curtis at the University of Nevada. In Special Collections the books are open shelved and we spent a bit of time enjoying looking at the collection. We then toured the new library, visiting the casino-like tech area in what is not officially called a library, but a “Knowledge Center”.

Our bookstore friend Ken Sanders from Salt Lake (where you can order our latest commercially published book: "Muir Ramble Route: Walking from SF to Yosemite in the Footsteps of John Muir", in case you have missed that news....) hooked us up with some like-minded artists from our next stop north, Logan. Here you can see Bob Bissland with his fantastic colorful posters. 

He and his wife Laura Fisher live in an artist-created house up the canyon with a clear stream running close beside it. We loved the night in the forest. The pic below is their "shrine room", decorated with African and South American art.

Peter couldn't resist the cowboy oil sign. Notice that the cowboy is a bee, the symbol for Utah's busy Mormans.

I will now list the 8 libraries, all with dedicated librarians working to keep all of us reminded of the vital need to have BOOKS, not just information or technology present and preserved! 
Stanford, UC Davis, U of Nevada Reno, U of Utah Salt Lake, Weber State U Ogden, Utah State U Logan, Idaho State U Pocatello, and finally the Public Library of Pocatello, where we hosted a herd of very interested and active youngsters through the gypsy wagon and the display of miniature books. Peter hung outside with the librarian, Katherine, playing on his ukulele book....

Thursday, June 10, 2010

California, for now.

It's been 2 weeks since we got back to Santa Cruz and it feels like years since we have slept in the gypsy wagon! No worries, though, we are gearing up to be back in Salt Lake City real soon and will be heading north from there for more adventures of the wandering book artists!
Meanwhile, we have been making lots of new books to show you. Donna made a bunch of one of a kind books, some using the paintings she just did in the desert this spring. 

Peter printed a miniature book using some vintage photo-engravings that Karla gave us of cowboy scenes like sitting around an open campfire, wearing cowboy hats and boots and pictures of rearing horses. It is bound with wooden pine boards that our friend Jim milled from his land in Mariposa County, California. A saddle leather title panel on the front cover is stamped with a cowboy on his horse.
While here in California, Donna went to the Sierra Nevada to check in with the granite. She went on a short backpack trip near Hetch-Hetchy, in Yosemite, where John Muir had his last fight to save the wilderness. Soon after he died, the dam was built there to secure a  water supply for San Francisco. Late spring snows and a long winter made for lots of water in the waterfalls and rivers.
The bridges in front of Wapama Falls. 
Crossing a boggy meadow, so nice to be barefoot!

Painting near Illouiette Falls, Yosemite.
We also attended an opening ceremony for a newly named stretch of county road, "John Muir Highway" up in the foothills of the Sierra. Since Peter and I walked on that route back in 2006 when we walked from San Francisco to Yosemite, we got to say a few words to the gathered crowd and hold the ribbon!
We are headed for Salt Lake on June 21st, the start of summer! Let us know if you would like us to stop by and show you our books!