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, March 27, 2011

Flash! ... KaBOOM!!!

Lightning flashed and thunder boomed right outside the wagon and I could see the whites of Peter’s startled eyes. “I’ve never been so close to lightning before! The thunder reverberated in my chest!” We were just minding our own business playing our ukuleles inside the heated cozy wagon. The rain loudly pounded on the copper roof, as we sang, “Hard times, hard times, come again no more.”

But I will back up. “L is for Louisville” is what I was supposed to title this post. We visited the libraries in University of Louisville, in Kentucky, where the novelist who writes the alphabet murder mysteries, Sue Grafton went to school. But no murder mysteries to tell of besides that we happened to be listening on our ipod to one of her stories. Peter talked to a class of ESL students and what they were most interested in was the uke book and the caravan. 

They took multiple photos of different groupings of friends by the front door and all planned to start playing ukulele very soon.

We had the campground to ourselves in Cumberland Falls State Park, Kentucky, where the temp never rose above 40 degrees.


We are still getting things organized. 

The falls are thundering and greeny-brown with this year’s plastic trash tangled at the high water mark.

In Knoxville, we had permission to park on private property next to a Jerry’s Artarama store. We didn’t realize it was right next to some mainline railroad tracks. The locomotives could be heard from FAR off as they roared their way to us and then as they flew by a few yards away every couple of hours. Luckily Peter and I can fall back asleep easily so were not too tired when the Knoxville Book Arts Guild toured the wagon and looked at books in the freezing weather on Saturday morning. 

that's a train back there.

There was a lot of analyzing of the structures of our books by this group. They obviously are an active binding group.

We pulled into the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina last night in the rain, cooked a curry vegetable dinner and drank some local Tennessee beer. All night the storm raged but by morning the air was still and we could walk around the folk school’s awesome crafts’ studios. We will spend two weeks here teaching in this lovely rural setting.

Louisville, Knoxville, Brasstown. Kentucky, Tennessee, North Carolina. We are in the south, in the Appalachian Mountains now, where the trees are just barely showing this year’s new leaves and the spring rains are flooding the low draws.

Last minute: The tiny house blog has done a story about us:

Check it out here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sheriff here! Open the Door!!!

We pulled into a vacant parking lot at an empty warehouse to sleep last night. We figure a neighbor must have complained about Gypsies in the neighborhood, or the fact that a random GYPSY CARAVAN was parked by a vacant warehouse, because some time long after we were already asleep there was a pounding on the door, and a gruff voice yelling, “Sheriff! Open the door!” I’m thinking, “Can’t I just pretend I am asleep?”

Peter leaps up, still in his PJs, he opens the door. “Hi!”

A decidedly mellower voice then enquires, “What exactly is this wagon anyway? And what is a “book artist?”

Peter, ever the educator extraordinaire, uses this midnight intrusion as an opportunity to share about what we are up to! He also is so pleased to be able to tell her that having a sheriff tell us to leave is EXACTLY what wandering book gypsies would expect to happen….throughout history the police have always been telling gypsies to move on.

She lets us off with a warning, imploring us to “PLEASE ASK the owners next time if you can park on their PRIVATE property.”

This is the very sleepy warehouse lot where we were visited by the sheriff last night.

Once again we visited the Lilly Library at Indiana University in Bloomington. We opened the caravan door and put out books. Curious students and faculty toured and admired. Also, a radio show host, Adam Schwartz interviewed us, mostly Peter, for a show he is developing to air later. We’ll let you know when we know about the airing place and time. It was a good introduction to the wandering ways again to talk about books, the wandering life, the beautiful gypsy wagon and the sunny warmth of spring in Indiana.

Peter and the radio guy, AJ at IU.

Now we are camping out in the knobs and hardwoods of southern Indiana. Ahhhh.

Sunset and the daffodils that EVERYONE grows in their yards here...

Wandering again!!

Santa Cruz 55 degrees, rain. Bloomington, Indiana, 77 degrees, warm, sunny and the caravan is rolling again!

We are picking up where we left off in October. After spending the winter at home in Santa Cruz we have returned to our gypsy wagon in Bloomington. Already the adventure is in full swing. We flew to Indianapolis, with two 49-pound check-on bags and two probably 59-poundcarry-on bags, loaded with books we made last winter, workshop materials, maps and a few new clothes. Howie Clark of Twinrocker Handmade Paper met us at the airport and drove to Jim Canary’s house in Bloomington via Geoff Davis’s Blue Stone Folk School in Noblesville, a suburb of Indianapolis. Howie and Geoff are in a band that plays many of the Hoosier Hotshot’s great novelty tunes, and we spent the evening jamming in the folk school. Peter learned a few Hotshot tunes to take to John C. Campbellwhen he teaches his Introduction to the Ukulele class week after next. His favorite was “I like Bananas because they have no bones.” In true musician style we arrived at Jim’s house about 2 am.

Jim Canary in his handmade house/bindery/printshop/conservation lab!

The next morning we started up the truck ( on the first crank!) that had been stored at Jim’s. We headed for the Dam Boathouse where our gypsy wagon spent the winter, dreading what we might find after the snow and cold temps of the winter. The wagon was in perfect condition and it only took a few minutes to pul it out.

The stored caravan with the stored boats. (different kinds of fun!)

Now if you want to talk about angels in disguise, lets talk about Howie. We took our truck to get the oil changed and mentioned the fact that we never drove at night because there was some problem with the trailer wiring and when we drive at night the left tail lights blow out. (Remember the night in Vermont when we got pulled over for that?) Howie said, “We have an hour how about I crawl under the trailer and see if I can find a short.” Right, we spent hours and hours last year trying to figure out the problem, but we humored him and let him go for it. Five minutes later he had found the short and another hour later it was fixed, and the oil changed, tires rotated and we were ready to wander the open road.

Donna and Howie inspecting the newly-opened caravan.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Wanderers ready to go!

Paloma in warmer times in Salt Lake City

In just a few more days we will fly back to Indiana where the gypsy wagon "Paloma" has been cooped up in a garage for the winter. Although it was a freezing cold and snowy winter there, the wagon should be ready to head down the road again into some spring weather. Luckily there is a good heater inside and the walls are insulated. I imagine we will still get some cool nights for awhile. I can't wait to be traveling in the sweet little wagon once again!

First thing we'll do is head to the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, North Carolina to teach 2 weeks of classes. In the first week's class we will be making a book: papermaking, printing and binding a limited edition for each student to take home. We are looking forward to the serene surroundings and the inspiring atmosphere of tons of creative energy at the center.

The second week Peter will teach, guess what: UKULELE playing!!!! If you want some real good times learning this fun instrument, come and join us the first week of April
Peter playing in front of the giant uke, Big Sur.
More news:
We have finished the portfolio of broadsides that we printed on the first part of the wandering. It is titled, "The Wandering Book Artists' Collaborative Broadsides." The broadsides are housed in a beautiful gypsy wagon-colored clamshell box. 
We made paper especially for a letterpress printed booklet with information about each collaboration which is included with the broadsides. We will carry one with us to show and we will ship them out to folks who order them when we get back to Santa Cruz in the summer.
I worked on the blog site a bit while I was home and now you can see a calendar on the bottom of this page as well as a map link to see where we have been and where we are going.

A very nice article was recently published in an online journal called Fine Books Magazine. Check it out.

Hope to see you on the road!

PS, here is a picture of our new granddaughter Emily, the reason we went home for the winter....
Emily, 4 months.