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 10, 2013

Wandering Book Artists in Alabama

“You are doing what I have always wanted to do.”
“You are living my dream.”
“Can I have your life?”

Parked under the raining pink magnolia blossoms in Tuscaloosa, AL

We hear this sort of thing almost every day. Living your dream is nice work if you can get it. We are grateful for this opportunity to see the country traveling in our gypsy wagon. But, we want you to let you know that traveling as wandering book artists has its challenges too. Like yesterday morning, we were at Cloe's Cup Coffee shop using the internet, so engrossed in the mundane but necessary work we do every day on our computers (setting up the next stop on down the road, confirming workshop details, and sorting out the always challenging “where can we park the truck and gypsy wagon,”) that we forgot we were in a two-hour parking space and came out to find we had gotten a parking ticket. Darn. The good news was that it happened in Tuscaloosa where parking tickets are only  $15.

Office work at the cafe
On the first Thursday of the month there is an art walk in the quaint town of Northport, Alabama, just across the river from Tuscaloosa. Wandering around we found “The Southern Letterpress,”  new enterprise that is the result of Jessica Peterson and Bridget Elmer dreaming, risking, and working hard. The shop opened a few months ago in a "shotgun" building (it is about 6 feet wide and 100 feet long and used to be a gun repair shop). During the “Art Walk” visitors were invited to print a poem on the Vandercook press. The poet, Samuel Gray, was there, and he gave us an impromptu reading of the poem! Jessica does job printing, artful printing and sells letterpress printed cards and broadsides in the Northport shop, while Bridget works out of another branch of the shop in Saint Petersburg, FloridaWe felt a real kinship to them running a business out of such a tiny little space.

The Southern Letterpress
From the back of the shop

Entranced by the colors in this mosaic at the Kentuck art plaza, Northport
In Tuscaloosa we talked to the letterpress and papermaking classes at the “Crimson TideUniversity of Alabama. It is one of the few universities in the country that offer a MFA degree in Book Arts. We could see that the current students in the program are focused and hard working. Clearly that is a tradition here, as we have been impressed by the number of UA graduates that we have met teaching book arts teachers at other universities in the south. Those UA graduates are living their dream, sharing the book arts with their students. Hopefully they also find time to continue making their books too. Good job UA Book Arts!

Peter at the mini Hollander “cocktail” beater, before adding the red rags to make some “crimson tide” pulp in the parking lot at the U.
And another oops: Chewing into a cheese cube at the reception after his talk at Emory University Peter broke a bit of tooth off his molar and so had to find a dentist in a strange town. No big deal, but we’re showing you this just in case you think that wandering book artists somehow escape all the tribulations of life…..

1 comment:

Tanya Cothran said...

Dad looks so happy in that dentist chair!
Alabama looks pretty!