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....

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Las Cruces + Santa Cruz = Cruces

Those of you who were following our trip in the spring of 2010 will remember that we made a series of collaborative broadsides during that trip. The final collaboration was at Indiana University in Bloomington where we made a broadside combining the state motto, “Crossroads of America,” the celebrated Johnny Appleseed, and Mathew Carters’ newly cut Van Lanen and Van Lanen Streamer wood type.

Two graduate students, Gatis Cirulis and Katya Reka, worked with us printing the project. In 2011 they moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico, where they now teach at New Mexico State University (NMSU). They invited us to come to Las Cruces to give a talk at the Unsettled Gallery, and when we got there they proposed we do another collaborative print project.

An open and closed copy of Cruces

We arrived about 7 pm on April 2, and by 8 pm we were already pulling out the miniature Hollander beater and new iphone-sized paper mould to make paper from century plant leaves that Katya had been retting for the past 6 months. As the paper dried, the brainstorming began. Many ideas surfaced relating to the theme of “crosses.” Our earlier collaboration in Indiana was about crosses and crossroads, Las Cruces was first founded as a crossroad town, early town logos had three crosses, our home city is “Santa Cruz,” or “Holy Cross” is also a cross city. We settled on the idea of making a small book in the shape of a cross.

We always run our Yarnell mini "cocktail" beater with a few drops of wine.

Peter found a quote by New Mexico’s revered artist, Georgia O’Keeffe, from My Faraway One, selected letters… “Anyone who doesn’t feel the crosses simply doesn’t get the country.” It refers to all the crosses she saw around the countryside in New Mexico. He wanted to change the spelling of “the crosses“ to the Spanish ‘Las Cruces’  to make it seem like O’Keeffe was writing about the city but that never happened.

Peter making paper with the iphone sized papermaking mould constructed by Brian Queen

In the morning we finished up the papermaking. We started playing with a cross-shaped piece of paper, folding the flaps to make a little container, or perhaps a shrine, for the little 3 by 2 inch pieces of paper we had just made. Then Donna and Gatis began cutting linoleum blocks for the cross-shaped paper.

More miniature papermaking
Century plant paper drying in the sun

In the early afternoon we went down to the NMSU art department to print the cuts. NMSU has a Vandercook press, but we did not have wood to mount the linoleum on, so we crossed the hallway to the printmaking studio and used their etching press instead.

We limited the edition to 20 copies, a manageable number to finish in a short time, and printed the cuts on paper Peter had previously made and had brought on the trip for just this sort of occasion. We placed the two linoleum blocks side by side on the bed of the press. We hand inked both blocks at the same time using a specially mixed yellow ink. We placed the paper on the lino-blocks, covered it with a newsprint slipsheet, then pulled the print. After that we re-inked the blocks, flipped the handmade paper over and pulled a print on the reverse side of the paper. This way the two lino-blocks ended up being printed back to back.

Cutting linoleum in the school printmaking studio

Donna and Gatis then swapped blocks and cut away more for the second run. Gatis called it making a “suicide print.” At the same time Katya cut linoleum for the cover to be printed on a very strong flax paper Katya had made when she worked at Cave Paper in Minnesota.

After the second time through the press, ink is offset on the slip sheet, below is the print

After printing the second run in rust-colored ink, a swash of deep red applied with a second roller, the blocks were again swapped and cut away for the final olive-green run. After the third cutting there was very little linoleum left on the block. It was a “suicide print” because there was no going back. It almost became a real suicide for Gatis when he stabbed his hand while cutting away at the block. He worked the rest of the night with that hand wrapped in gauze held over his head.

Gatis working one-handed, still smiling!

After finishing the third run it was almost midnight, but we still needed to print the cover. We inked the cover’s lino-block with the olive green already on the slab, placed the paper on top of the block, then took a slip sheet covered with the offset ink from the previous run and placed it face down on the paper, then we pulled the print. The result was that the paper had the green linocut on one side and the three color “ghost print” on the back. We were excited with the results and pleased that the ghost print could conceptually tie the printmaking to the text, as O’Keeffe had lived at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.

Prints drying in the garden

The next morning we got ready to cut up the prints into the cross shape, but found the ink was not dry. In a stroke of genius, Donna took dry earth from the yard, sifted it through a tea strainer and sprinkled it over the prints. When that dirt was brushed away the prints were dry and had a nice earthy patina. 

Dusting with the earth of Las Cruces

Donna wrote out the quote by hand on 20 little pieces of the century plant paper, while Katya sewed them in place on the print using three cross stitched crosses to reference the town’s early logos. 

No, not the typewriter! Donna writes the text out by hand

The covers were punched and cut. We titled the book “Cruces” and Donna cut a lino-block title. Using green ink saved from the last night’s final press run, Peter and Gatis printed it like a rubber stamp on the cover. 

Gatis and Peter printing the title

The final step was to sew the folded cross page into the covers.

Katya and Donna sewing and making the final folds

The project was complete…in less than two days. We split the edition in half, Gatis and Katya getting the even numbers while Peter and Donna got the odd numbers. If you are interested in buying a copy, decide if you want an even or odd number, then you will know who to buy it from. The price is $125 regardless of whether it is even or odd.

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