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....

Monday, October 31, 2011

Wandering is great even if only for a week

The Friends of Dard Hunter papermaking group met last week for a regional conference in Santa Barbara and we took the opportunity to travel in the caravan for a mini-wandering.
First thing we taught a bookbinding class. It held in the house of fellow FDH member (and current president) Jill Littlewood.
Here are the finished books with their maker's hands.

We had a blast making margaritas in Jimmy Yarnell's tiny "cocktail beater". Obligatorily, we first beat some rag pulp in during the papermaking fair, then cleaned it out, added the tequilla and lemons and the rest of the magic mix. Thanks for the beater Jim.
A toast to a fun and inspiring conference!

No wandering book artists blog post is complete without some kind of odd vehicle thing. This is a picture of an old restaurant made with trolley cars as bookends to the building. It's located in Buellton and is just about ready to be bulldozed to make room for housing, so let us know if you want to save the trolleys and we'll give you the contact number...

We drove some backroads of California, leaving 101 at Santa Maria, traveling in a generally north eastern direction. We camped by the side of the road at a beautiful Los Padres National Forest hiking trailhead parking lot. (Actually it was probably for hunters or off roaders, but that does not sound quite as romantic.)

Ah, it feels good to wander in the wilderness...
We took a sunset hike on a dusty trail through the chapparal, then played some cowboy tunes before sleep.

Did you know that California has areas richer in oil than water? The town of Maricopa was built by folks who figured they could make some money by extracting the stuff in the early 1900's. Good idea!

Driving on the "Petroleum Highway, we stopped in for a visit to the Maricopa Museum. Across the street at Tina's diner we got all the info about the town. An old timer who owned his own oil well toured us through the museum. He said that the museum would close when he dies because none of the young folks value history, and no one stays in town anyway. (Maricopa, "elevation 600, population 600".)

Here is a vintage photo of the "Lakeview Gusher," which spewed 100,000 barrels a day of oil for months back in 1910 in Maricopa.

An abandoned pomegranate tree in town provided us with abundant treasure in pomegranates!

Well that's it for our wandering till next year. See you at CBAA in January, or come join Peter at the Feb 3-4 ACM Book Studies Conference, The Past, Present, and Future of the Book, at Cornell College in Iowa.

One more thing! A radio article about a fellow who followed our "Muir Ramble Route" on a bike across California can be heard here.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Its not over till the ukulele-playing book artist sings!

We have been home about 3 weeks now and it seems like 3 years for all that has gone on. We finally have adjusted to not moving on every day for some new city and new friends. We have almost crossed everything off the “to do when we get home” list we made on the trip… but if we promised you something, and have forgotten, let us know.

Back home and at the press once again.....

So I guess the trip is finally over, but it will not be forgotten. When we were in Boulder, Colorado, the library video-taped Peter's talk for their ScriptaLab site. It is about a half hour long and is now up on the library's server. They titled the talk, “What is a book? What is an artist’s book?” and they describe it as follows: “Book artist Peter Thomas talks about the nature of the artist’s book, what they can do, who makes them, and what they sound like.”

Click here to see the 30 minute video of our talk at CU Boulder.

And just to prove the old saying is really true...We just received a note from Ori Hoffer, the maverick news reporter from Park City Television, that he completed the editing of the interview he did with us when we were in Park City, Utah earlier this year. This is only four and a half minutes long and is posted on YouTube.

Click here to see the 4 minute TV short film.

Parked in front of the Santa Cruz Public Library for First Friday.

Now that we are home we get asked a lot, “When are you going to leave again?” But it is not asked like it sounds when typed. They want to know if we have plans for another trip. We have not thought that far ahead, but we will be taking the gypsy wagon to the "Friends of Dard Hunter" meeting in Santa Barbara in October, and we will probably make one more cross country trip in 2012 to visit the south. We will make a post on the blog to let you know about that, but until then, best wishes from your wandering book artist friends Donna and Peter Thomas.

The drum roll please....

Last but not least here is one last photo of the wagon, taken in Northern CA, that never got posted.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Home is where the Wagon is

We're home after spending 235 days on the road with a gypsy caravan! But, then, who is counting?

We crossed over the California state line on June 27th and drove to Arcata. The group "North Redwoods Book Arts Guild, "NORBAG" treated us to a welcome back to the Pacific picnic on the coast that evening. We learned about their efforts to get folks interested in Book Arts, for instance, they held a fundraiser where they collectively made 1000 books and sold them each for a dollar. The proceeds went to fund a reading program in the county. Good going!

It was cold there by the ocean after being used to the 90s in Oregon and 100s in Idaho!

The redwoods looked so beautiful in the fog and rain. We drove down a one lane road to get to the "Rockefeller Grove" in Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

We didn't drive through the tree, we were too large. But it was fun to be tourists in our home state...

We arrived home July 1, which was "First Friday", an evening of gallery openings in downtown Santa Cruz. We had our last "open caravan" of the trip in front of the downtown branch of the Santa Cruz Public Library! Very appropriate! And upstairs in the library was a show of the books we made and broadsides we printed while on the trip.

Here is Peter with his mom (second from left) and friends.

Speaking of counting..... here are a few statistics about our trip that we think you might find interesting:

We were on the road for 235 days.
The truck and gypsy wagon traveled 20,641 miles.
We set foot in 35 states.
We visited 55 libraries where we showed our books.
We hosted 28 "Open Caravans."
We taught 24 classes, averaging 10 students each, making over 480 books.
Peter gave 28 lectures about Book Arts and sang "What's a Book" accompanied by his ukulele book.
We stayed in 22 State Parks.
We stayed and hiked in 19 National Parks and Forests.
We soaked in 5 hot springs.
We parked in 55 different friend's and family's driveways. Thank you!
We parked randomly by the side of the road 10 times.
We were questioned by the police 4 times. Tickets: none.
We had a fantastic trip.

We want to thank you for following our trip by reading this blog. It was the comments by you readers that kept us writing.

Thank you to so many generous people who made our trip so successful:

Our daughters Suzanne Weinert and Tanya Cothran and their husbands, who were the reason we could leave for so long. They took care of the home, mail and bills while we were gone.

Richard Raucina Cabinets of Midpines, California who helped to build the amazing gypsy caravan, Paloma, and it could not have been a sweeter home.

Our many organizers in the field who worked with enthusiasm to fill classrooms and lecture venues with creative and happy people.

Our hosts who treated us to parking places in the shade, hikes in their neighborhoods, meals with their families, a turn with their washing machines and driers, solid advice as to scenic routes to take, parties with music and drinks with their friends, recommendations for more libraries to show our books and an occasional electrical outlet when the sun wasn't out enough for our panels to recharge.

The many librarians who continue to support our endeavors in book making.

Now we will be home for awhile, where we will get busy binding books and filling orders. We will start dreaming of another trip down the road with the gypsy wagon... perhaps to your town next time? Let us know....

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Sheep camps: Gypsy wagons of the West

This is a beautiful Southwestern Idaho sunset we witnessed a few days ago. The photo was taken near Mountain Home, Idaho, on the longest day of the year, where we opened the caravan and our suitcases of books to give a talk and play some ukulele book arts folk songs for folks at the public library in Mt. Home. The next day we taught a class in Boise. Whew, the sun was cookin' hot and the caravan registered 98 degrees all day. An awesome thunderstorm cleared the air at 9 pm.

These are some of the books made in Boise. It was a very boisterous and creative class..

Sheep camps as they are called out here are the gypsy wagon of the west. Also called sheep wagons these are the traditional wandering homes for the shepherds of the western USA. In Boise we met a couple who, after the economy shifted a few years ago, decided to go to work full time building nearly authentic sheep wagons. Their business is called Idaho Sheep Camps. As Kim Veder told us... "Building sheep wagons is a lot more fun than working real estate or building big homes, I guess!"

They currently have 3 finished and for sale!

A very handsome wagon and its interior.

They install working vintage woodburning stoves.

A sweet interior with a handmade quilt and old enamel dishware.

They like to dress up the interiors to create a mood of simplicity and beauty.

Heading westward once again, we arrived in Ashland, Oregon on Saturday for an open caravan all day at Illahe Gallery. Then as the day cooled we jammed with local ukulele players, teaching them a number of Peter's book arts folk songs.

Cathy Deforest was the host for our visit to Ashland. She has been a book arts friend for over 30 years. She used to buy blank books from us at the Renaissance faire in the 1970s. Now she lives in Ashland on this beautiful land in a house she and her husband have recently completed building.

A cider apple orchard lines one side of the property.

The gypsy wagon feels like it is visiting a palace!

Today we taught a class at the Ashland Art Center.

We had 16 in the class, this was the biggest class we taught and it went splendidly.

The art center also host a show of our work:

A couple of pics from the road:

The lumberjack gets to work on the caravan roof.

The grizzly is waving as we pass through this little Oregon town.

Monday, June 20, 2011

You (and our camera) shoulda been there.

A wandering rock star? A wandering Book Artist? Read on...

Our Friday evening presentation at Ken Sanders Book Shop in Salt Lake City was an amazing event. Donna demonstrated bookmaking from 5 - 7, making an edition of four books using lyrics from “The Telling Takes Me Home,” a song by U. Utah Phillips.

We shared the bill with Phillips’ son Duncan who has just completed a tribute CD honoring his father’s life, titled "Long Gone". Then at 7pm the chaos began. It was art walk night in SLC and hundreds of people flowed in and out of the shop as we traded off playing songs. Duncan and his accompanist played a U. Utah Phillips song and then Donna and I sang a book arts folk song. While Duncan played, Donna went back to work on the books. Occasionally I would step outside to find a crowd 10 deep around our gypsy wagon and I would open the doors to let them see inside. This lasted until 10 pm! What a picture that would have made, what a movie, but in the mad rush to do everything at once we completely forgot to take a single picture…Until the next morning.

Those of you who have been reading our blog for awhile now may know that we modeled our gypsy wagon after a “Reading” wagon, one of the many styles of horse-drawn homes, or vardos, made for Romany travelers in England during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. When we were building it, people often asked if we were going to pull it with a horse. I would usually reply with a quick smile, “No, we’re going to use a ram. A Dodge Ram.” I am not sure how cleanly this next part segues, but I figure that Dodge must have read that and wanted to one-up us for that quip because they created an ad for their Ram trucks which uses letterpress printing equipment as a metaphor for the toughness of their trucks. You can see it on Youtube.

Speaking of Gypsy Wagons... it turns out that besides being a Mormon-kind-of-city, Salt Lake City is a gypsy wagon-kind-of-city. We found more gypsy wagons here than in any other city in the country. This is due to the influence of Brad Atkisson, who has built at least 6 gypsy wagons that we know of. We visited Brad, who lives in his latest wagon, saw a wagon built for his son, and then saw another under construction by Taylor, one of his apprentices (but the camera was missing then too).

Exterior of Brad's wagon.

Interior of Brad's wagon.

Here are two pictures of Brad's son's wagon.

Note the pop out on the right side to extend the bed length.

Interior of Brad's son's wagon.

Finally we want to let you know that the lecture we gave at CU (that is the University of Colorado at Boulder) a few weeks ago has been put online: This is the title:

"What is a book? What is an artist’s book?"

"Book artist Peter Thomas talks about the nature of the artist’s book, what they can do, who makes them, and what they sound like. "

Friday, June 17, 2011

Out in Colorado the rocks were the books

We taught a class at the Azura Winery and Gallery in Paonia, Colorado, on west slope of the Rockies, with a view of snowy mountains looming over green farm lands of Paonia. Azura has an amazingly beautiful setting and we were so fortunate to spend a couple of days there with Ty and Helen, the wine and art making owners. 

This was the first class we have taught that ended with a wine tasting. We will have do do that more often.

A classic car rally made a stop at the winery while we were teaching our class. The Morgans really caught my eye.

Even though it is almost summer, because of the late snow it is the time of the spring blooming in the desert. Evening primrose, lupine, sego lily, penstemon, arnica, mules ears and giant paintbrush are just a few of the flowers we have seen blooming in Colorado and Utah.

Here is the cactus "claret cup" in bloom.

Yellow salsify, pink peas and the Western Colorado rocks.

Here is a juniper tree growing in Dinosaur National Monument near the 150 million year old "Morrison" rock formation containing the D-bones.

It has been so hot in the mid-day that we have been taking walks near sunset time, when the air temperature has cooled a bit, say the mid 80s or so. This part of the country is all about the ROCKS. We met a kid who said, "All the rocks are red. Everywhere RED ROCKS!" We are loving it.

Donna in the wildflowers and rocks.

Peter with the rocks in Colorado National Monument.

We visited the Canyon Pintado Historic District in western Colorado, looking at the pictographs and petroglyphs. 

Reading rock books is what Peter calls it.

These are what they call "carrot people". We think they were aliens....

They call this a "pin-up" petroglyph. Someone shot up this Basque sheepherder petroglyph.

Now, to end this post, let me show you a picture of a distant cousin to Paloma that we found at the visitor center for Dinosaur National Monument.