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, April 30, 2011

Music and book arts go together

Playing music is a nice way to connect with folks. In the photo below we're playing old timey folk songs with banjo player, photographer and book-artist Bea Nettles. She treated us to dinner with other like-minded artists in Urbana, IL one very cool and rainy day last week.

We also spent a few windy cold days in Iowa City, where we were honored to be guests at the University of Iowa Center for the Book. The night we arrived Melissa Moreton had a fun old timyish music jam planned for us. She is a mom, teaches book arts at the university AND plays a mean banjo and wash tub bass.

We lectured and musicked and ate and drank with Iowa City book artists, and had some interesting 'State of the Artist Book" conversations with papermaker Tim Barrett and conservationist Gary Frost.

Tim and Peter at the papermaking facility.

Tim's Oakdale paper mill

The students with their instructor and friend of ours Kate Martinson, visiting from further north: they are from Luther College, Decora, IA, visited Tim at the papermill had a surprise visit by the Wandering Book Artists and the caravan. Several of the students' favorite book was the Squirrel book where I tanned the squirrel parchment used in the binding. I quickly changed into my buckskin skirt to show off. There are not many places where people appreciate the work!

I really don't think this is a good picture, but I have to show you that our granddaughter Emily made a surprise visit to the lecture screen when Peter's computer went to screen saver during a lecture! We miss her!

Peter gave a talk to the book arts class at the University of Nebraska, Omaha, yesterday. One thing we talked about was that there are so many more opportunities for students to learn papermaking, printing and book binding than when we were in college. Their end-of-semester project books on display were well-printed and bound. The instructor there, Bonnie O'Connell, had lots to say about the difficulties facing teachers today, with reduced funding and more hours of required work. Definitely lucky students to have her there.

We were able to have an open caravan directly in front of the Art Building. People ducked inside to get out of the wind.

I finished knitting my latest wanderer sweater!

Have you seen the inside of the wagon recently? Photo by Tim A. Fleming. Thank you!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Tornados in St Louis: OZ or bust?

When we arrived in St. Louis for our talk at the Olin Library at Washington University, it was still sunny. The old part of the Washington University campus looks like an old European castle, built as part of the 1904 World Exposition.

While Peter gave his talk, and as the reception progressed, the rain began. The wind grew stronger and then we heard there was a tornado “watch”... but coming from "the land of earthquakes" we didn’t really know what that meant. Would our gypsy wagon end up in OZ?

The talk was very well attended. The audience included our Miniature Book Society friend Julian Edison, as well as Washington University's book arts teacher Jana Harper with her books arts class.

One student gave us this very relevant broadside.

We spent the night with Antiquarian bookseller Anthony Garnett and his family, who live adjacent to Forest Park in a 100-year old many-roomed mansion.

Here is Donna sitting in front of the fireplace.

We visited the beautiful: ARCH, built in the mid-1960s as a monument to the gateway to the west. It still feels very far from the “west” to us from California….

As we ate frozen custard ice cream at “Ted Drewes”, the local hot spot, lightning flashed in the west. Little did we know it was a tornado was tearing the roof off part of the St. Louis’ Lambert Airport.

While in St. Louis we visited our friends at ARCH Paper. They make 100% post consumer rag paper and paper pulp. They work with “Remains” a recycling and repurposing business that collects cast-off clothing for resale. They sort through tons of clothing and shoes every day. Shoes go to developing countries, cloth is recycled into things like archery target stuffing, auto insulation and more. The 100 percent cotton is shredded for making paper and that was what we were interested in. Peter bought as many bags of “Arch Shred” as he could fit in the empty spaces in the truck. The neat thing about the shred is that they sort the rag by color before it is shred, so Peter will not have to add dye to the pulp to get some vivid blacks, reds, greens, etc. Hand papermakers take note: this is a “100% post-CONSUMER” product, not merely scraps left behind from the making of clothing, so is the most ecological cotton rag pulp.

We parked at "Remains" for Easter. The storm blew by and we celebrated Easter with papermaker friend Joan Hall with pancakes and eggs. Check out her fantastic BIG work.

And finally: every community has its cool store for locally grown food!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Take the last gypsy wagon to Clarkesville…

Today we didn’t monkey around. We got up early and drove to Clarkesville, to Austin Peay State University. Last night there was another THUNDERSTORM and the power was out at the Patterson-Marx home when we left.

Our host at the University was Cindy Marsh who teaches printmaking and book arts. The school bought out an old show card print shop (like Hatch) so they have a bunch of wood type. When we arrived the school seemed vacant. It was. Classes had been canceled for the morning because the STORM had knocked out the power over the U and half the town. Cindy met us there anyway and with the spare time we used her type to print a show card for ourselves.

When the students arrived by around 1 pm, we got down to business. We set up our gypsy wagon outside the art building and set up our books in the art building foyer. We showed our books and talked to students all day. One girl seemed to look at every book with excitement. She was a printmaking student, recently from India, and said, “I have a language barrier. I have been so worried about taking the book making class that I will have to take next year. I do not know enough words. But looking at your books I see I do not need many words, I can use pictures and colors too. The book can be like a painting.”

That made our wandering into Clarkesville worthwhile.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Nashville, a jumpin' book arts town!

Besides all the letterpress activity we already knew about, we have been excited to find active book arts community groups here in Nashville, where folks all seem to be learning and sharing with each other. Vanderbilt College, Watkins College of Art and Design and the downtown branch of the public library all have collections of artists' books and teach classes. Also, amazingly, several local junior and high schools offer classes in book arts. So, as well as being "Music City" we declare Nashville to be home to the book arts.

We visited Hatch Show Print on Saturday, a print shop specializing in music posters, printed on letterpresses. Our friend Mary Sullivan (a fellow student we met last summer at Jim Croft's Old Ways Workshops) gave us a tour. They use lots of beautiful wood type:

We walked down Broadway and caught a few honkey-tonk shows:

We also taught 2 days of classes at a branch of the Nashville public library, where the 30 total students got to make books for free! Liz Coleman organized the event and gave a mention in her blog.

We love it that Nashvillians support their libraries enough that they are able to offer programs like this! Thanks, Nashville! 

Nashville has also been good for the wanderers. We have walked in pretty places:

Radnor Lake Park

We are staying in a flat driveway, on a quiet street, but most especially, our wonderful host family are making us fully welcome into their home. 

Lesley and Abraham walk to the bus stop.

Lesley, Jonathan and son Abraham Patterson-Marx are not the first hosts to treat us so well. In fact, I am sorry I have neglected to mention our hosts up till now.  All over the country are welcoming artists and book people. Some we have known before, like Maggie Cheney, who used to live in Santa Cruz and now is in Asheville. Some we have just met and feel like long time friends, like Kay Patterson in North Carolina or Susan Jones of Mississippi. We feel so taken care of wherever we go.
Lesley teaches book arts at the high school level and makes very intricate and sweet books and prints:

Leslie and Jonathan made a cob house in their back yard, for hanging out in, for the dogs to be in the shade, or for eating supper in, and just like Grandma Prisbey in Simi Valley, California, they used bottles in the walls. (We have started a bottle wall at our house in Santa Cruz, and when we stop wandering hope to find time to finish that wall up.)

We are inspired!

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Gypsy Wagon Comes to Wichita

From 2004-2006, our book, “The Train Comes to Wichita”, was featured in a show at the Wichita Art Museum. That, and the fact that Jimmy Yarnell, one of our modern pioneer papermakers lived there, made Wichita a must-stop place. Jim's “Irving E. Lee” Hollander beater was pictured in Jules Heller's papermaking book and it was Yarnell who encouraged me to build my own beater when I couldn't afford to buy one back in 1976. He also worked with Lee McDonald to develop over-under style umpherston beaters and some low cost PVC hollander beaters. Jim now has dementia, but we visited with his family and they gave us an amazing gift, his 4-ounce over-under beater. I always called it his "cocktail beater", because it is really more appropriate for mixing drinks than making pulp because it is so small.
We had an exciting visit at Wichita State University. As the students wandered through the wagon looking at our books we were asked what we are doing, how long we had been traveling and when we will be back, etc, as per usual. We usually say something tongue in cheek like, "We are advocating the addition of more color to the country’s highways and campgrounds. Regular trailers are too beige. Then we get down to the talk about artists’ books and how our gypsy wagon is a perfect metaphor for the artists’ book. A regular book is like a regular trailer, functional, practical… An artists’ book is like our gypsy wagon, a work of art." When we said we don't know if we will do it again, the the printmaking instructor said, “Please do it again, it is always good to find something to get the students excited!”
The giant mosaic is by Miro, the Spanish artist.
OOPS, we parked in the wrong place!
Mothers Day on the Road
What do you do in rural northwestern Oklahoma on Mother’s Day? Peter took me to the rodeo in Guymon! That’s where everyone else was! We sat next to an Oklahoma family who had never been to a rodeo before either. OK, it was a “cultural experience.” There were highlights: With no recognition given for their bravery, rodeo clowns risk their lives to lure angry bulls away from the cowboys that were crazy enough to try and “ride” them. The women rode for speed and accuracy, rather than trying to ride furiously bucking bulls or broncos until the bell rang. Little “roping” calves were so happy to be let go and chased back into the safe corral that their hind legs jumped sideways as they ran towards the gate.
The Weather
The weather shifts from day to day and state to state. At the rodeo, the announcer from Louisiana said he wished he could give some of their Louisana water to the folks out in western Oklahoma. The Mississippi is flooding but in New Mexico they have had so little rain and snow that there is a ban on outdoor fires in campgrounds. We keep hearing folks say, "the wind’s been bad this year." The wind blew so hard when we drove from Oklahoma to New Mexico that we could not drive in 6th gear on the highway, and we spent a whole day inside the wagon at a campground because it was too windy to enjoy being outside.
When we left Tennessee, the trees were all leafed out, but arriving in cold Iowa we found barren branches. Driving from Omaha to Kansas City we missed a whole season as the dogwood and redbud had already bloomed before we arrived. The campsite in Nebraska was filled with flowering dandelions. Like good gypsies, we picked enough to make a gallon of wine.
We have glass milk bottles, but don’t have an airlock, so using a trick we learned from our Gypsy Wagon-building friend Rick Raucina, we used latex gloves to keep the oxygen out of the “must”. The picture shows it being blown up by the fermentation gas! By the time we get home we will probably be able to celebrate with a first sip of what will probably be a very “interesting” tasting wine.
A Few Photos from the Road:
In the Cimarron National Grasslands in Western Kansas. Windy and hot, sandy and beautiful.

Rural Oklahoma
Now we are in the high elevation mountains near Taos, New Mexico, where we have had snow flurries all day.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Wandering in the South, Y'all

We arrived in Asheville, NC in a hailstorm and the hail balls were up to the size of large marbles. We stopped in a parking lot to let it pass, with all the other folks waiting it out, looking out with trepidation as the hail strikes on the roof of the truck sounded like gunshot! 
Peter took this photo to show how much water pours off a parking lot during one of these intense storms.

Peter taught a bookbinding class on Sunday at BookWorks, in Asheville.
 Some cool structures were made:

I went for a walk around the neighborhood of the center and look! the dogwood are spectacular here.

After the class, we had a beer at this brewery beside the French Broad River. This is the artsy side of town and the outside drinking area was surrounded by great iron work.

We stayed a night near Athens in the Ft. Yargo State Park. State Parks are jewels. Very empty this time of year. No mosquitos yet, no plastic beach toys littering the lakes. Just nice views and quiet.

Well, not so quiet when we are talking on the phone to Suzanne about grand baby Emily back home...
Teaching again in Chattanooga, TN and more cool books:

Here is the spot we "camped" for the night in Chattanooga, near the "Choo-Choo."

a very cool urban neighborhood, filled with entrepreneurial 20 - 30-somethings.

Last night, we camped in "Old Stone Fort State Park, near Manchester, TN, a 2000 year old ceremonial spot for the Woodland era Native Americans. 

This is Peter wandering in the paper mill ruins in the park. Will you build me a wall like this please?