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, May 21, 2011

The "Best Time Ever" in Colorado

We left the hot springs at Ojo Caliente on the "most beautiful" road...

And we have driven a lot of roads on this trip. We have also visited many parks and museums. I have noticed that they all seem to want to impress their visitors that they have the "largest" or the "most" or the "oldest" or the "most spectacular" something-or-other thing.

The Great Sand Dunes National Monument , located in southern Colorado are the "tallest" sand dunes in North America.

The Florissant Fossil Beds National Monument near Colorado Springs are the "richest and most diverse fossil deposits in the world." These 3 petrified stumps at the monument are coast redwoods! This used to be the coast 3 million (or billion, I forget exactly) years ago. They are definitely the "oldest" redwoods I have ever visited.

Peter and Donna with James Ascher and Ray Tomasso.

Our long-time papermaking friend Ray Tomasso from Englewood, Colorado is now officially the "best" and our "favorite" papermaker. We thought he was just hosting our bookarts classes in his "Inter-Ocean Curiousity Studio," but actually, he somehow talked librarians James P. Ascher and Deborah Fink from the University of Colorado in Boulder, into planning a show of our work in Special Collections, to coincide with the current show of his art at the library.

Peter and I arrived at the library in Boulder where Peter was going to give a talk at the reception that evening, Ray casually showed us the catalog for the show of our work. We were the "most" surprised we had ever been.

We knew nothing about this! Ray made the paper, letterpress printer Tom Parson printed the cover, and James wrote a fantastic text for the catalog. Special Collections librarian Chris Levine kindly kept the library open after hours for the event.

Peter gave his talk. It was filmed by CU, and I'm so glad it was. It was one of his "best talks" ever. The website for the University of Colorado’s "Scriptalab" program will post the video, which they plan to use as an educational tool in university classes.

Ray's truck and his artwork being moved into the library

The evening was also the opening reception for Ray's show in the library, "Exhibition of Works in Cast Paper." Wow they are beautiful and BIG paper art pieces. If you are near Boulder, please go and see them. Not to be out done by any other library, CU was also
Diane has posted on Ray's paper art blog about the show and opening here.

And not to be out done by any other library, to make this CUs "biggest and best" event ever, it was also the opening night for a show of work by members of the Rocky Mountian Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers.

The next two days, with the wagon nestled in Ray's back yard, Peter taught book binding and book art classes in Ray's studio.

Ray has the "most comprehensive collection of old printing and papermaking equipment" that I know of. He also keeps it all running. The odd inter-ocean curiousity lives back there too...

Like this. This must be the "biggest pig-cooking cauldron" I have ever seen. If you ever come across one for sale, let me know... it would make the "best" bathtub, being pulled behind the Gypsy Wagon....

Monday, May 16, 2011

New Mexico: Land, lotsa land

We made this book from old printers ornaments that Karla Elling loaned us last year. The guy who wrote that song must have been thinking about New Mexico. (Yes, I know it was Cole Porter)

New Mexico has charmed us. We love the blue sky, clear breezes and laid back attitude. Remember our first day camping in New Mexico, at Clayton, where we spent the whole day in the gypsy wagon because of the wind, well our second camping experience, near Eagle Nest, was the complete opposite. A sleety snow kept us in the caravan for the day, but we had fun anyways. We played music, read and baked cookies.

Down in Eagle Nest and we visited their new museum, home to an annual mountain man rendezvous, filled with "primitive arts" stuff on display. What an awesome and desolate setting, don't you think?

Driving towards Taos, we stopped for lunch at this old adobe plus log cabin rancho. Hey Jim or Jeff, do you want a new project? We like this place.

We had a huge parking mess up trying to get turned around in the driveway of our papermaking friend Priscilla Robinson's in Taos. It looked like we could just pull it around, but we got stuck jack-knifed into a corner. It took over an hour to get out of the jam by finally taking the trailer off and dragging it with a chain. This may have been the gypsy wagon gods telling us we had become to cocky about our trailer backing/parking abilities... No pictures of it though. It was too embarrassing.

A beautiful sky from the driveway at Priscilla's.

The Taos Book Arts group held a workshop for us in one of the nicest studios we have taught in so far.

I guess what made it nice was the beautiful oil paintings on the walls by Dinah Worman:

This painting by Dinah is called "Taos Mountain."

We spent a night with Peter's mom's friend Sue Westbrook. She's got a gallery in town called "Taos Blue" and has a great eye for the magical in the land and in art. She plans to open a Spiritual Road House and use old sheep wagons or home made houses for the rooms. We were able to give her all sorts of great mobile housing ideas.

Now for the last and best in New Mexico: We taught a class at Ojo Caliente Hot Springs Resort, and got to stay overnight and soak in the pools and a hike up into the hills behind the resort.

We parked in the plaza by the entryway to the spa.

Just after sunrise, we hiked 2 miles up to an old mica mine. The ground sparkled under our feet and we felt like children in a fairy land with treasure all around.

We brought a little home to work with in books.

Soaking in the 108 degree water. Ahh.

But thats all for now. We have to get back to more driving and some the book arts events planned in Colorado!

Thursday, May 5, 2011

How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?

This is the title of a song by Blind Alfred Reed, written in the 1920s. I made an artist book using his song as part of the text. 

The photographs came from Peter's Grandma Mary, who was born in "Indian Territory." My family tree is the other part of the text. I found my family, like Blind Alfred, faced hard times in the depression, traveling state to state to find work. My Grandma Mary Caroline was born in 1915, in Blue Springs, Nebraska. Her family lived on 5 different farms in Nebraska and Kansas. We drove through Blue Springs, NE on our way from Lincoln, NE to Lawrence, KS.

 A local woman described the place to us, "...Just a jerkwater town now."

I thought it was beautiful country. Nebraska sky. Montana is not the only state that can call themselves, "big sky country." 

We camped beside a reservoir near Lincoln, Nebraska. All the sites are mowed grass, which may be pretty for city parks, but a little odd for State Parks, don't you think? In Pawnee Lake State Park we camped in a "primitive" site right on the water, and we were all by ourselves because we have solar power, so didn't need electricity, water and sewer. The blue glow at night shows that most RVs are plugged to watch TV. One student, awhile back, asked "What do you do for entertainment? I answered, "Read, play music, and talk." Those were all foreign pastimes to him. His incredulous reply was, "You don't have a TV?!!" 

We have both finished reading "My Antonia" by Willa Cather. I made a book using a quote I found in it. I drew the pictures from Grandma Mary's photos, the same ones that I reprinted for the "...Hard Times and Live" book.

"My Antonia" is set in the red grass prairie land of Nebraska where we are right now. At the campground we got to walk through the red grass.

Then we entered Kansas on the "road to OZ."

We were busy, giving talks to classes at KU and Kansas City Institute of Art and want to show you a few more of those "Gyspy Wagon on Campus" and "Peter sings book arts folk songs to students" photos.