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, 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.

1 comment:

Velma said...

re: the weather: my nephew, who did early research on acid rain, said in the 80s, "we have no idea what we have done to the weather." referring, of course, to the pillaging of resources like coal, oil, etc.
enjoy the traveling!