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, November 19, 2012

Asheville becomes a William Everson kind of place for the Wandering Book Artists

This year celebrates the centenary of William Everson’s birth. Everson was a California poet and he is the man that taught us to love and how to print fine press books. 

Everson surrounded by Santa Cruz printers in a photo taken only a few years before he died

Everson had several distinct phases of his literary life. He grew up in Selma, in California’s Central Valley and began writing poetry while in High School. He found his literary voice reading Robinson Jeffers’ poetry while studying at Fresno State. He quit college and went “back to the land,” becoming a Central Valley farmer. That calling was cut short by WW2 when he was drafted and then sent as a Conscientious Objector to a work camp in Oregon. There he met several San Francisco poets and after being released from the camp moved to San Francisco to become a “Beat Poet.” He acquired a Washington handpress and proceeded to print and bind two books of his own poetry. In the mid-1950s he had a religious conversion experience, joined the Dominican Order and changed his name to Brother Antoninus. He continued to write poetry, give readings and print books, and became widely known as the “Beat Friar.” In the early 70s he fell in love with a woman he had been counseling and in a dramatic moment at a poetry reading he stripped off his monk’s robes announcing he was leaving the order to live “in sin.” It was now no longer a beat, but rather a peace, love and rock and roll kind of world and he began to write “earth poetry.” It was at this time, dressed as a mountain man in buckskin and bear claws, that he began to teach at the University of California at Santa Cruz while at the same time printing “fine press” books for the University’s Lime Kiln Press.

The day we left home for this current wandering book artists’ trip, which was back in September, we finished a project we had been working on since 2009, an edition of William Everson's poem, “The Alder.” Our book is designed to do homage to his groundbreaking edition of “Granite and Cypress.” (you can see some images on our website at:

Our book has an introduction written by Allan Campo, an Everson scholar. He lives in Asheville and so when we passed through the town we set up an appointment to meet with him and his wife Nancy to show them the finished book.

But the reason I say Asheville became Eversonesque for us is this: the same evening we had dinner with an Asheville artist named Laura Lago. 

Laura (on left) in her tobacco barn

Laura had taken a class I taught at the San Francisco Center for the Book. That class was titled “Fine Press Printing and The West Coast Fine Press aesthetic of the 1950s-70s.” Here is the class description: “Learn the fine points of fine press printing. In this class you will study examples of books printed by mid-twentieth century west coast fine press printers including William Everson, the Allens, Grabhorns and others. You will then handset type, damp paper and use a Vandercook proof press to print a one page poem on a folio sheet of Peter’s handmade paper. Peter will explain the fine press aesthetics of page layout and type setting as he learned it from William Everson at the Lime Kiln Press in the 1970s. You will learn how to impose the type in the bed of the press, how to damp paper and how to achieve perfect registration and presswork.”

In that class we made a book, titled “Excerpts” with quotes by Everson on the book as an art work (you can see it on our web site at Laura cut the images for that book, and she did it so they would look very much like the images that Rose cut for Everson’s first two books, “A Privacy of Speech” and “Triptych for the Living.”

It was nice, if only for a short moment, to once again feel a good strong connection to my printing mentor. Everson was the one who set me on the path to being a book artist. He encouraged all his students to find quality content and strive for perfection in workmanship. Mentors are important. And as we travel on this trip we try to be mentors of sorts, encouraging the people we meet to explore the possibilities of the book arts, sharing our expertise and our passion for this new artistic medium, the artists’ book.

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