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, 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. "

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