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, May 2, 2013

Home in California!

We spent the last week wandering around Southern California. We started the week with a visit to our old sixteenth century stomping grounds, the “original” Renaissance Pleasure Faire, in Irwindale, and found a cousin of our wagon parked there.

Cute restored vintage wagon at the Renaissance fair

We kept ourselves busy running around town. We gave a talk at the Flintridge Bookstore where Peter (La Canada HS class of ’72) spoke to a crowd that was mostly high school classmates. Early that morning we parked the gypsy wagon down the street from the bookstore and drove the truck to give a talk and papermaking demonstration at Occidental College. When we got back, the owner of the house we had parked in front of came out to talk to us. We thought she was going to complain, but she said, “My friends have been calling all day asking where I got the beautiful wagon and if I am going to give up my job and start traveling. Can you leave it here a few more days?

Great outdoor papermaking area at Occdental College

LA is the land of freeways and they are always crowded. There are so many people and cars that finding parking for two vehicles is a big deal. We even had to parallel park the truck and wagon when we went to see the Watts Towers. We still can’t figure out how we got it in those two tiny spaces…

If you haven’t guessed, we are now back home in Santa Cruz with tons of work awaiting us. Most pressing is to bind the books we sold while on the trip. But before we finish off this blog post, we want to share some statistics we have compiled for this trip. To recap, for those of you who have just begun to read the blog, we left Santa Cruz in September 2012 and drove across the country, arriving in Florida in early December. We left the truck and wagon in storage and flew home for Christmas and a winter break in California. In mid-February 2013 we flew back to Florida and then drove back to Santa Cruz, arriving home on the last day of April.

25 States
On our eastward trip we passed through the middle of the country (mostly on Interstate 80) and we returned through the southern states so we covered lots of ground. Note: on our 2010 – 11 wandering book artists’ trip we went through 15 states we didn’t visit this time, so our total is now at 40. Sounds like we might have to take one more trip to get the easy 48…

13,000 Miles
That sounds like a lot of driving, but we were gone for over five months. Luckily Peter is fine with doing most of the driving. I really should calculate how many stitches I have knitted. What I remember completing is: 3 sweaters, 5 pairs of fingerless gloves, 6 hats and 3 crocheted flower garlands!

150 Days
That is an average of about 90 miles per day. We usually drove less than 3 hours between appointments and there were days when we didn’t drive anywhere. It was great to have a day off now and again to work in our “office” somewhere beautiful.

50 Libraries
We visited 50 special collection departments to show our books and 10 public libraries to do office work or download audio books.

45 Talks, Workshops and Open Caravans
These were given to library patrons, university art classes and community book arts groups. Peter may even have one or two “groupies” for the “Book Arts Folk Songs,” which he sings at every event. He can bring a smile to even the most reserved audience member…. “I really need to make a CD,” says Peter. It is still fun for me to hear the talks even though I have heard over 100 now. I love how he changes what he says to meet the needs of each group. The open caravan tours are a real blast. I love hearing, “You’ve changed my life” and “You MADE this? I want to do that!”

Gypsy wagon tours, "Take me with you!"

Class presentation number 99.....still fun for us!

30 Campsites
We tried to find a place of natural beauty to camp, hike and generally regroup in between our public engagements. We stayed in 2 National Parks and 5 National Forests, 16 State Parks and 7 random campgrounds. Vedawoo, Zion and Big Bend were highlights this trip. I just can’t get enough of red rocks, and natural hot springs are divine.

The last campsite: Mariposa, CA

43 Driveways
We parked in loading docks, winery lots, campus parking lots, but the most fun was always the driveways of new and old friends! We played music, shared meals (gumbo, won ton soup, sauerkraut and polish sausage, and more….), took hikes in favorite local places, played with a monkey in one house, got massages, made books, and swapped stories. Thank you to all our hosts.

1 Final Story
This sort of encounter is typical of what happened all the time...
I was filling up the truck, feeling pleased that I had gone a few blocks off the freeway and found a station that sold diesel for $3.90 per gallon rather $4.35 at a station right off the highway. 20 gallons is an average tank full, so it doesn’t represent that much money, but it does give a lot of satisfaction… I was up on the hood trying to scrape a giant smashed bug off the window, when I heard some one saying, “That is awesome, what is it? Can you live in it?” I looked up to see this 20-something year old guy with pierced lips, acne, something sticking thru his nose, multi-colored hair, the works. “Do you want to see inside?” I asked. (Part of the responsibility of owning such a beautiful and intriguing vehicle is the obligation to show it to anyone who shows real interest.) “Whoa, that would be sick!” So I showed him inside. He asked, “Did you build it?” I showed him the book we made with the construction pictures. He got more and more excited about it. I said that we were out on the road encouraging other people to build their own gypsy wagons. He asked, “Where do you get the wood? Home Depot?” I said we milled the wood from sugar pine trees near Yosemite, but any lumber yard would have wood. Then he asked, “How did you put in the electricity?” I said just like wiring is done in any home and I showed him the propane tank and fuse box. He said, “Where to you buy all that?” Then the gas tank was full and I had to finish up washing the windows, so he wandered off. When I was telling Donna about him, she said, “I bet he grew up around malls, where everything you can buy is already made, and so he's never made anything in his life.” I wonder if she was right…

Chinese houses blooming in the Sierra Nevada foothills in California

Autumn 2014
Although we plan to stay home for awhile, it looks like this will not be the final wandering book artists’ road trip. Peter is scheduled teach a ukulele class at the John C Campbell Folk School in North Carolina in October 2014, and there are rumors of a visit to a University in New York City floating around…. Let us know if you would like us to visit you then!