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, April 8, 2011

I Sing Behind the Plow

We began week 2 at the John C. Campbell Folk School in North Carolina by visiting a gypsy wagon owned by a local gal, Misty Taylor. It’s about a quarter of the size of ours, is mainly a sitting room with a couch that converts into a bed and is a very cozy little space.  The bright painting is very charming. I’m envious of the mollycroft (that raised-roof skylight down the center) too; next caravan we build will have to have one!

Back at the Folk School, Peter thought teaching ukulele might be easier than teaching book arts, just because less materials are required. We hauled around lots of paper, cardboard, paint, etc during last week’s class; this week he only had his uke to keep track of. But he worked really hard at helping beginning ukulele players learn enough to actually play confidently and enthusiastically in front of the whole school at lunch on Thursday and then at each studio that afternoon. 

It is so fun to see beginning artists and musicians with those big proud smiles! 

Here is a video of the song Peter and his class played for the rug hooking class (They went to sing there first because they were told it was a class full of hookers...).

I had a conversation with another instructor here about how some classes have instant rewards. On the first day of the cooking class, for instance, they got to eat yummy Indian food. On the first day of the basket-making class taught by JoAnn and Steve Catsos, they stripped black ash for hours and hours. Their baskets didn’t get made until later in the week. The ukulele class was a bit like the basket making class. At the end of the first day everyone was a bit weary and brain-dead, but they had learned their first two chords and some songs to sing with them.

The jewelry studio.

In my class, which was basic jewelry metal smithing, (with a great jeweler and teacher from Mississippi, Susan K. Jones,) the rewards came early as we learned stone setting, soldering and sawing of metals on the first day. I loved the class. I was able to work along at my own pace and so accomplished a bunch. Thanks to Susan and her assistant Kay Patterson (a great metal worker and felter) for all the inspiration!

Here are some of the pieces I made. I did some more metal work, not shown here, for me to use later on books.

John C. Campbell Folk School believes that music rounds out the experience of the artist (that is all of us, folks) so each morning they have music. The title of this post is from a Danish poem that talks of singing (expressing joy) while plowing (working), which brings fulfillment. 

Singing and playing in the Keith House Community Room at "Morning Song"

Peter led the music on Thursday and I joined him as he introduced the ukulele to the folk school. This was the first time they had offered a ukulele class! Everyone wanted to know what songs were ukulele songs. We played Hawaiian, folk, old time and 60s pop too! We had fun and they did too.


On the last night, we jammed outside the jewelry studio with some locals. We played fiddle and old-timey tunes and sang Kate Wolf and Gillian Welch songs. What a nice evening.

One last note: Have you ever had moonshine? A classmate, Jessica, says that everyone has it around here. That’s not true in California, I say.

Two sips were just enough.


I just got word that Adam Schwartz finished his radio interview and article about us for Indiana Public Media. Check it out. This is the link so just click here.



Bonnie K said...

Sounds like you have had a wonderful experience there. I LOVE your jewelry pieces, Donna! Simply beautiful!

W said...

Wonderful sharing of your experiences with us! Thank you! Singing behind the plow, behind the desk, is a lovely reminder to bring joy through music into our workaday lives. Donna, I especially love the bird in a tree jewelry piece (not a chicken, but still quite charming! :)
~ W Treat

Anonymous said...

Donna...It was so much fun being with you this week. You are so talented and do such beautiful work! Thank you for the lovely compliments. We all had such a great time in our class. Safe travels to you and Peter. Much love! Susan

Cari Ferraro said...

Whoo! What a kick! Love all the singing, it IS so central to art and community. This land is made for you and me! Beautiful metalwork too Donna, nice, nice, would love to try this someday. I'm singing behind needle and thread today, stitching a book/box/wrapping for a set of books with paper and leather and rocks . . . Love following your adventures, thanks for sharing.

Peter and Donna Thomas said...

Thank you, friends! Now we are in Asheville, NC, where the adventure continues where hail balls as big as large marbles fell from the sky!

Frank said...

Peter & Donna,

It was a pleasure meeting you both and taking Peter's uke class. It was the best class we've ever taken at John C. Campbell Folk School.

Happy Trails to you until we meet again!

Frank & Marianne Gurley
Asheville, NC

Renee said...

Donna, your jewelry is as gorgeous as your knitting. Thanks for allowing me to travel around the country vicariously with you and Peter as I sit in bed mending broken bones. Your blog is great (and much prettier than mine, no surprise). TIme to go play some uke.