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....

Friday, October 12, 2012

It's a *#@&^-ing gypsy caravan, for goodness sakes!

Just what is it like to be traveling in a gypsy caravan? I thought I would go through a typical day with you.

First, we make tea and have our breakfast in the caravan. We pack up the back steps, roll off the leveling blocks and pack them away, then I help Peter back up the trailer (I have a set of complicated hand signals so nobody has to hear me yelling over the truck noise).

Then we drive (usually between 1 hour and 4 hours, or $100 in gas/time) to get to an appointment with a friendly librarian or two.

Geoff Smith at Ohio State University (soon to be President of FABS)
Artists and librarians with us in  UI Champaign/Urbana, IL
displaying our books
Sometimes the librarian arranges a place to park the truck and caravan, sometimes not.
Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, IL

We often have an "Open Caravan" so interested students can peek inside and perhaps get inspired to live creatively. At the Herron School of Art and Design we held an open caravan from 11-12 and had over 100 visitors.
Herron School of Art and Design, IUPUI, Indianapolis, IN
Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
I am sitting in the "no parking" zone, waiting to meet the parking police, but they never come. I notice that the students all seem to turn away when I look up from my knitting and catch them peeking at the caravan. Why are they afraid or shy? Do they think they are going to offend me by staring?? I am sitting on a gypsy caravan, for goodness sakes! Finally, a sociology professor stopped by to talk (whose last week’s guest was a “sex fetishiser” or something or other). I love it when people are engaged with life!

After visits we stay with our hosts or drive a bit further down the road. My first choice is to drive so we can stay in nature, at a state or national park campground. That is where I can find beauty, quiet and a level parking spot.
camping in Buck Creek State Park, OH
If we stop at a campground we get to hike for an hour or so in the fresh air, and see the colorful fall forest. Then it is dark and we eat dinner and head for bed in the caravan. People always ask if are warm. We have a propane heater, and it keeps the caravan perfectly warm in the mornings and evenings when it is chilly.
Buck Creek State Park in Springfield, Ohio.
Peter loves it when we spend the night in a friend’s driveway. Then there may be a chance to play music or have local book artists over for a potluck. The librarians and art teachers at University of Illinois, Champaign/Urbana have such a great working environment that they get together for fun after work! 
Musical librarians at Bea's house
Parking at Bea Nettle's house with glorious fall colors

We have to squeeze in doing “office work” on the computer at some point every day. Arranging the next days’ visits take lots of time on the phone or in emails and it is hard work finding internet on the road now that everyone has password protection.

Peter works on a blog post at Pam and Willy’s house in Salt Lake.

It is nice to know we have friends and family traveling with us via cyberspace!


Tim Dodge said...

Hey! Just wanted you to know that you did inspire my wife and I to build a vardo! You came to Pennsic a few years ago, and one morning we woke up and there was a gypsy wagon next to our tent. The next year, we drove our gypsy wagon into Pennsic.

Bonnie Klatt said...

Looking forward to seeing you again at the Roycroft tomorrow (Sat) for the Accordion book workshop!

Rhan Wilson said...

I want to be on the road again. Thanks for the inspiration.