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....

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.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

The Magic of Traveling

People who travel know that sometimes amazingly wonderful things happen and other times things become incredibly difficult. After teaching our afternoon class in Edwards, Colorado, (which was our first class with high school students and it turned out great!) we started out late for our next stop in Paonia.

I think Highway 70 between Vail and Glenwood Springs is one of the most beautiful stretches of highway in the country. The road winds through Glenwood Canyon, suspended above the Colorado River. I find it strange to be saying that a highway is beautiful, but this one was... the designers of this stretch of road really knew what they were doing. We stopped at a rest stop to admire the river, as it was overflowing its banks because of the last few days’ heat melting the largest snowpack in recent memory.

We pulled up next to a van pulling an enclosed utility trailer. Peter said, “These must be gypsy travelers too.” Turned out it was The Kris Lager Band. They were headed to a gig in Aspen, and they also play sometimes at Moe’s Alley and the Blues Festival in Santa Cruz. Check the band out when they come to your town and support hardworking touring musicians. A snipped from our conversation with Kris: “Battle of the Bands, American Idol, they are all taking music in a wrong direction in my opinion. Music should bring people together, not separate us into classes. Think what the word “idol” means…” Thinking about the music jams we have played in while on our trip and how they have been times of great connection and fun, we say he is right.

The town and spa of Glenwood Springs are located where Glenwood Canyon opens out to let the Crystal River flow into the Colorado River. The lodge building of local red stone was built in the late 19th century and the huge hot pool and mineral baths there became a major tourist destination. Peter and I stopped for a soak. I love thinking of all the places I have gone in natural hot springs as a tourist…. Mono Hot Springs to soak tired hiking muscles, The Blue Lagoon in Iceland, Mercy Hot Springs for Katy’s 30th birthday and the last place us wanderers soaked, Quinn's hot springs in Montana...

At dusk, we drove in the direction of a campground. Here is where we had one of the “not so nice” traveling experiences. The RV campground turned out to cost $58. a night for a slice of cement pad and a snack bar. We drove on hoping for something better. We started to get Tired and Cranky. Then it happened.

The wandering book artists became all-american. We spent the night at Walmart. The parking lot was quiet, level and had a marvelous view of the snowy peak of Mt Sopris. All in all our Walmart experience ended out falling into the category of “ a very nice experience.” Who would have guessed it.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Wandering in the Rockies

We are back on the road.

At Evert Brown and Louise Padden's in Boulder. (90 degrees at 6 pm.)

We are in what they call the "front country" of the Rockies. We had a great adventure that started with an ad for wood type on Craig's list:

If you know of any wood type for sale let us know!

The type was in Fort Collins, so after teaching the first day of our class for the Book Arts League in Lafayette, we drove up to get the type. On the way we passed another gypsy sort of wagon. A fellow who, as the guy that sold us the type said, was "Traveling for JC".

The fellow with the wood type lived on Mountain Avenue, and as we were sitting on his porch chatting, a small historic trolley drove by. We hopped on for a ride. During the course of the 5 minute ride found that two of the other passengers were from San Jose, but the amazing part was that one of them worked for VTA and had driven San Jose's W-2 Trolley, the trolley that ours was stripped to refurbish. If you don't know that we own half a trolley click on this link: Peter and Donna's Melbourne w-2

Walking in Fort Collin's old town, looking for a place to eat dinner, by chance (or wanderer's luck) we strolled by a storefront called "Swamp Gas and Gossamer". Inside were Les Sande's displays of his steampunk-style gizmos including a 5 by 5 foot cube with a wind-up crank makes cottonwood fluff blow around like a snow globe, an old vacuum cleaner made into a flying bubble machine, and a old truck, sawn in half, that lines each side wall. Lee told us, "I used to be religious, but now I am just thankful, and the way I show it is I make things."

Les Sande, of "Swamp Gas and Gossamer"

Which reminds me, in Denver we met another assemblage artist, Jerry Simpson, who collects plastic, metal, toys, books, craft supplies and more from dumpsters and wherever, and uses it all to create wonderful 2 and 3D sculptures. In fact his whole property is an artwork, a maze of organized junk, neatly and artistically arranged and displayed. He was happy to give us a tour around his packed rooms and up to the roof garden. Even though the stacks and stacks of junk freaked me out, I loved the creativity of both these guys.

Egg beaters and lunch boxes.

License plate wall siding.

One of his cement patio tiles.

We made 12 copies of a flap style book with a quote by T. S. Eliott in the class for the Book Arts League. The first day we printed the covers, the second day we printed the text and bound the book.

We are now in Vail. My heart sang as we ascended the Rockies. We taught a class at the public library today. Look how the mountains and trees dwarf the caravan. (Going hiking tomorrow, yea!)

The Vail Daily featured the Wandering Book Artists on the front page! Click here to read the article.