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....

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The New York by the Great Lakes

We've had a couple of days in the New York of Great Lakes, dairy farms, lazy swimming rivers, and more book arts! This is what it looks like when we pull up next to the OTHER diesels in the rest stops on the interstate:

We taught a class and opened the caravan in Canton, New York, where St. Lawrence University is located. 

The Special Collections Librarian, Mark McMurray, is also a printer and book artist of "Caliban Press

and his semester class "The History of Artists' Books" began this week. Mark's reader for the class could be published for other book arts educators to use! There is an ongoing need for updating this subject as the book as art is quickly evolving and his research is comprehensive. What lucky students to have for a teacher one who makes books AND knows books as a librarian as well. 

We had a great visit to his home, parked next to the garden (tomatoes and the most beautiful eggplant I have ever seen!), 
Peter got a massage for his sore driving muscles by Patty (Mark's wife) and we are on the road again!

This is us camping on Lake Ontario last night, at sunset. In the morning walking on the beach I saw a baby turtle crawling to the dunes. Oh, also we swam in the lake before the sun went down.

The Visual Studies Workshop visit at noon in the 90-degree weather was reminiscent of Cleveland last month...but great to see the place where artists' books evolved in a different direction: They make mostly books printed offset, in larger numbers than our editions. They teach graduate and undergraduate students the finer nuances of creating books as art and work a lot with individuals on concepts for artists' books. The building is covered with an installation art piece having to do with architecture/time. Someone stopped behind me right after this photo was taken and said, "What is it?" 
Peter said,"a gypsy wagon!" and she said, "No, the building, what is it?" It was fun that the art got more attention than the caravan!
At 6 pm we then started another lecture and class, this time in Buffalo at the Western New York Book Arts Center. 16 students made scrolling books at this downtown center that has only been open a year and is full of great energy and good classes and cool letterpress stuff to buy!

The truck and caravan are parked on the street in front.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010


If you ever go to Vermont, go to the Bread and Puppet Theatre. We visited the community earlier this week and fell in love with their colorful puppets and music and the very ALIVE nature of every participant. Whether singing, enjoying our books, planning or rehearsing shows, painting or printing the woodcuts of one of the founders, Peter Shumann,
they are full of drama and enthusiasm! Peter and I printed a broadside in the printshop using one of Peter Shumann’s images and my linoleum cut words, “wandering” and “far from HOME”.

We feel very far from home, yet Vermont is comfortable. Weather is mild, the bread is home-made, the cheese is rich and local, the artists’ book community is alive and WE HAVE FAMILY HERE!

My cousins' Jean and Kevin Wry's "camp" on Lake Champlain is where we parked for a few days. We had a hectic schedule for a few days before arriving here and the next few weeks are going to be busy, so having a rest and recreation time at the lake was welcomed. Having family to be with makes it even better. The air is cool and fresh, the water is warm by our standards (the Pacific is probably 15 degrees colder).

The Bailey Howe Library on the University of Vermont campus arranged for us to park the caravan in front of the steps of the building, which is always the best way to show up to a library! We got lots of interested visitors to the caravan and then it’s easy to get the books inside to show the librarians. No parking meters, no crowded streets! A bunch of people came to the talk Peter gave, including my cousin Jean who has a few of our books and wanted to catch up on our book-art-ish news and see our latest books.

Vermont Book Arts Guild is active with meetings or workshops every month, shows annually and parties where food is often involved! They hosted us for a workshop on Saturday in a large bright room next to a church with a steeple!

(Vermont earns the “cutest villages in the US” award). We stayed with Jill and Harold in a small village by Lake Champlain, parked next to a crabapple tree abundantly decorated with deep red, shiny apples!

And every garden and road shoulder is verdant for Vermont! Flowers are everywhere....

Friday, August 20, 2010

Boston: the "Open Caravan"

 At the end of a residential street in Boston, next to a wood, in balmy (notice I did not say steamy or humid) weather, we show books, drink wine, snack on chips and salsa and talk about our lives as artists. Crazy ideas come to life (like tanning chipmunk skins for binding, books that talk or play music, a puppet book?) and materials and techniques are compared (wood versus linoleum for relief printing). I don't think open caravan is going to be the ultimate business model for selling books, but it certainly is fun for the connections made. I don't have pictures of all the neighbors stopping by and seeing artists' books for the first time, but these show some of the fun: 

Wine, books, conversation.

Ashlie Taylor, painter/artist-extraordinaire, rode her bike to the open caravan. Click here to see her beautiful paintings and drawings.
Annie Silverman with her accordion toy theater. Inside are pictures of accordion players in layering dimensions. This is a cousin to our real accordion book.
Dinner afterwards in the pavillion with our hosts Lee McDonald and Anne Marie Stein and friends.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Time for an OPEN CARAVAN

We are going to be having "open caravan" on Thursday in Boston area.
Stop by Lee McDonald's house at 31 Madoc St in Newton, MA between 5 - 7 pm. We show books, Peter plays songs and we generally have a good time...

We left the Catskill Mts with their picture-perfect pastoral villages on Monday morning, and reached New Haven, CT for a meeting with librarians in the afternoon. Yikes it was hard driving in the city....
AND THEN, a thrown-together open-caravan with Book Arts enthusiasts headed up by Paulette Rosen met us at the Eli Whitney Museum Park that evening for books, wine and song....
This very happy group had fun on the tour...
Spent one night with our friends Liz and Jim Beloff near New Haven. They are the proprietors of Flea Market Music, a ukulele concern. We are very excited about their new ukulele book coming out very soon, The Daily Ukulele, with 365 songs you are going to WANT to play!!

We spent one day swimming in the Long Island Sound. Camping in Connecticut. Playing ukes. Singing the song, California Stars, I started crying thinking about my California...
I miss the California air mostly. Please, if you are there now, go backpacking in the Sierra and look at the stars for me!

But onward! Wednesday: Providence has very tiny streets with lots of cars. Luckily the park had 4 spaces in a row to pull into. Peter kept an eye on the meters and again we had a successful meeting with librarians Laurie Whitehill Chong from RISD and her assistant Ariel in the caravan.

Peter parallel parked in front of the John Hay Library at Brown University. Well, he couldn't get in place very close to the curb, so I stayed outside and sat on the back porch to make sure we didn't get a ticket for sticking out in the road and entertained all the passersby with tours and talk. He went in and showed (and sold some too) our work to the special collections librarian, Rosemary Cullen.
Hope to see some of you soon,
The Wandering Book Artists.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Bookbinding time in the East

Peter and Don Rash on the Handpress:

Part way through our broadside collaboration with fellow printer and fine binder Don Rash he said, “How does this compare with other collaborations?” I had to think a bit. For one thing, I was completely at home in his print shop even though we were printing on a 1900s Morgan and Wilcox Washington hand press instead of a Vandercook press like ours at home. Another thing: Don is very relaxed about what he likes and voices his pleasure when he is happy with the printing results and that is fun. Still another thing: I felt like I was in the sauna for 12 hours yesterday as we printed the broadside on damp Moravia hand made paper in his shop!!!


The paper came from another Pennsylvanian who joined into the collaboration, Pavel Repiski of Atlantic Papers. The fact that the paper was made in Moravia was double perfect since Peter first met Pavel in Moravia at the Velke Losiny paper mill and also many Moravian Brethren are settled here in northern PA.

Hot and humid, humid and hot! But you know what is really standing out in my memory right now? I like thinking about how many friendships we have made and how much we have learned about printing because we have worked in so many studios with so many artists in the prime time of their craft-lives. Don has been bookbinding for over 30 years and his artistry and craftsmanship are outstanding. He designs, repairs and teaches fine bookbinding (this includes leather, boxes, tooling and more!) in his studio in Plains, Pennsylvania. Next door to his studio he owns a house that is available for students to stay in for a very reasonable cost. I highly recommend Don for any binding student.

The class in Don Rash's studio:

Off to another community: Treadwell, New York, in the Catskill Mountains. Peter is teaching a bookbinding class here today and I am catching up with office work. We are staying and teaching at the Bright Hill Literary Center, a center where art and literature are combined in a lovely setting in a small country town in the green woods. You can take classes, attend readings (which include open mikes, the best!!) read in their library or see the current art show in the gallery. Residencies are available for artists and writers too. Bertha Rogers is the powerhouse behind all this and she reminds me how much one person can do if they love what they are doing and care about their community.

Wagon Paloma in front of the center:

Peter teaching the class today in Treadwell:

I started this posting when the weather was in the 90s and humid, but today I am happy wearing my sweatshirt and also socks! We knew that if we paid 3X what we should have for new fan blades (we broke both our fans by leaving them plugged in while driving - no, not on – and they jumped onto the floor and turned themselves on and burned out….) to be mailed to us by second day air that the weather would cool down….

And now, after the workshop, we get to have dinner from the garden in this wonderful house on the hill: Bertha and Earnie's porch, fresh corn, Whitlock Red wine, cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden....


Do you want us to send an email to you when we have made a new post? The easiest way we have thought to do it is for you to email us. We will then make a group email to send out announcements to. We can't figure out any other way to contact you as my followers....

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

From Pennsic Wars to Penn State

We’ve had a magical week


We arrived last Friday at the Pennsic Wars, which is a production of the Society for Creative Anachronism. We really hadn’t planned this visit, but Peter had been in contact with several gypsy wagon owners and they said they would be here. Now this was a good chance to see some wagons all in the same place! The Pennsic Wars are like the Renaissance Faire (Peter and I participated for 20 years or so back in the 70s – 90s), they re-create a time period in England (mostly), but the SCA concerns itself with the medieval time. A big part of their activities have to do with fighting, i.e.: swords, foils, shields, bows and arrows.

So here we are. In the middle of the 11th century with 10,000 people wearing linen sheets and armor, carrying weapons and PARTYING non-stop! We had fun. I painted and Peter photographed all the gypsy wagons we could find. We camped with a group that welcomed us in and fed us and took us touring around the site. Something we have noticed on this trip: We feel like every person we meet is the most interesting and friendly person in the world and we are dear old friends. So nice.

We spent the next night at friend Marty from Santa Cruz parent’s house in the country near Pennsic, where he just happened to be there because of a wedding. We ate dinner from their garden then visited in the firefly and cicada evening. I picked enough green beans, squash and tomatoes for the next few days. Yum.

The next day as we drove east on the Interstate 80, Peter saw a sign for Penn State University. He thought, we’ve sold a book to them before! I was napping and the next thing I knew, we were on the way to an impromptu meeting (actually, this is not usually a concept in a librarian’s world) with special collections librarian Sandra Stelts. The library is under construction this summer (this is happening ALL OVER), so she wanted to come down to the gypsy wagon at the loading dock and see our books there. We were happy to oblige because it would save us hauling all the books inside. What a nice meeting it was! We sold books (quite a few!), people dropped by and smiled and inquired about the wagon (as per usual) so our detour off the highway was a highlight of our day. And in an email she said, “Your visit was the highlight of my week! So glad that you followed your impulse and called from the highway. I felt when I got back to my office that I'd BEEN somewhere, even if we never left the library's parking lot! The caravan is a charming little world of its own.”