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....

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Home. Well…Halfway Home.

This trip is officially halfway over. Last Friday we left the wagon parked nestled into a little “Fibber McGee Barn” in Winston-Salem and flew home. That makes it sound so easy. Too bad we didn’t get any photos of us jacking up the roof of the barn so the wagon would fit, or of the maneuvers require to back down the moss covered, steep s-curve drive to get into the barn.

Statistics for this trip? Here are the important ones. We were gone 59 days, traveled 7000 miles through 23 states, stopped at 34 universities, and hosted 5 book arts folk song sing-alongs.

Books art sing along at Friends of Dard Hunter conference.

We took some great photos that did not make it into their chronological blogs. So as not to waste them -here they are.

West to Mid-west:

Burroughs adding machine artwork. Utah State. Logan, Utah
The poet’s family manufactured these machines. 

Camping at Jellystone Park, nr. Grinnell, Iowa

Lords grain silos. Indiana

Mad Anthony. Fort Wayne, Indiana

We tried several times to get a good picture of our wagon with an Amish horse and buggy. 
But they moved too fast and this is the best we could get. Indiana

Not so Mid-west:

Donna in piano crosswalk. Oberlin, Ohio

I have friends in a band called the Tailgaters and took this to send them. nr. Buffalo, NY

Spotted my namesake at the Tug Boat Festival. Albany, NY

New England

At Hampshire College they provide solar power for visiting gypsy wagons. Amherst, MA

Old library space. Hampshire College. Amherst, MA

New library space. Hampshire College. Amherst,  MA

Sign. Hampshire College. Amherst, MA

Bierstadt’s Hetch Hetchy painting. Mt Holyoke College, MA

Peter as king in bag of flour. Norwich, VT

Evening open wagon event. New Haven, CT

East Coast (Mid-Atlantic)

Food truck and wagon. State College, PA

Donna and flower. Botanical Gardens. Washington DC

Philadelphia street early morning. Philadelphia, PA

Finally, sad but true, we never encountered any other tiny homes on the road this trip. One day we thought we did, but it proved to be only a garden shed on a flat bed truck.

Highway. Altoona, PA

So that's it for the photos. We will return to the gypsy wagon in mid-February 2015 and make our way west, visiting universities not covered in snow. Our first stop will be teaching a week-long introduction to ukulele class at the John C Campbell Folk School. Come join us.

Latest release: Our book, "The Alder" was featured as a "pick of the week" at University of Wisconsn, Milwaukee: Click here to see the article.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Do ya think it is time to go home?

We are nearing the end of this trip and want to tell you about a couple of less than nice experiences we’ve had, just so you know that not all is always rosy on a wandering book artists’ road trip across the country, starting out with a campground host saying, "I didn't think that was your trailer, you look like a normal person." We are wondering what kind of person she was expecting....

Unfortunately, campgrounds are hard to find near the big cities in the east, so we spent many nights sleeping in Walmart parking lots. At least is is somewhere legal to park for the night, and they let us use their restrooms. I hate to say it, but every now and again we even buy something there. In Philadelphia, our Walmart lot had a beautiful waterfront view.

Sunrise from the Walmart in Philadelphia
Before we got to that Walmart we stopped for dinner in a park by the Delaware River. Donna had already started cooking when we were told that the gate gets locked at sunset, and we had to leave. So in the middle of cooking, Donna placed the pan full of hot food in a cupboard and we pulled out of the park. It was isolated, surrounded by freeway and factory and the only place we could find nearby to park was next to a roofing shingle manufacturer where everything had a horrible tarry smell.

We wanted to spend the weekend in a campground near Princton and Rutgers. But there aren't many campgrounds in that part of New Jersey. We found one in Cheesequake (a sloppy modification of a Native American placename). The park was beautiful. Those East Coast trees were turning colors, we had a flat parking spot and plenty of space. But wait, "What is that dull roar?" It turns out there’s an interstate right behind those beautiful trees, and on the other side of the campground is a 4-lane highway. Then the hot campground showers were only lukewarm. There were no electrical hook-ups and the sun wasn’t out so we couldn’t recharge the battery with our solar panels AND it cost $30 a night!

Cheesequake State Park, New Jersey
On an un-named campus Donna thought she would get a photo of that cute golf cart with the two security guys stuffed inside and the orange triangle slow moving vehicle sticker on the back checking out our illegally parked wagon. Peter asked if we could take the picture. "No." Apparently while they are on duty they cannot have their picture taken. Oops, Donna had already snapped a shot, shh.

Curious security guys

On the way to the University of the Arts we took this picture. What it doesn’t show is how hard it was to drive around narrow crowded city streets in Philadelphia, or that we blocked morning commute traffic to snap the picture!

Downtown art, Philadelphia
Here's another: After visiting the first library of the day at Haverford, we were relaxing in the tree-shaded, quiet and peaceful parking lot, waiting to go to our next appointment. A woman jogging by glances in the open door and burst out saying, "I already love you." Things are looking good, but then a fellow dropped by and began to talk about politics and conspiracy theories. Who knew that the Philadelphia Irish had ties to Middle East oil barons who have plans to overtake blah blah blah. He was never going to stop and only way we could get out of it was to say, OK! Time to move!" and we started packing up as he talked away!

Donna in wagon at sunrise
Here is the rosy side of things story of the week: It turns out that Rutgers Arts Librarian Megan Lotts really knows how to throw a party! We sat up outside the Mason Gross School of Art and led a sing along of book arts folk songs in the streets of New Brunswick, New Jersey!  One priceless moment was when a young woman passing by said, "I play ukulele!” She pulled a Kala dolphin soprano uke out of a backpack and asked, “Will you tune it for me?”

"Bookbinding gals won't you come out tonight, come out tonight...."
So, yes, it IS time to go home. We leave the caravan in North Carolina for the winter and fly home to Santa Cruz on Friday. We will be back on the road, going across the south, in February.

Touching the Atlantic at the Jersey shore

 San Francisco Bay area friends: We will be playing Book Arts folk songs at the art reception of the Friends of Dard Hunter members exhibition on Fri Oct 17th at 1890 Bryant St Studios in S.F. from 7 - 9 pm. Join us!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

From the Folk School to the Library of Congress

We spent last week taking classes at the John C. Campbell Folk School. We highly recommend this to everyone. We both had a great time exploring a new craft medium in fully equipped shops with all the required materials close at hand. And at night there are concerts and dances with Appalachian music! They feed you well, soul and belly.

Donna took a class making glass beads.

Peter took a blacksmithing class. He made candle holders and some fittings for the wagon.

We saw a couple of new (to us anyway) musical instruments at the folk school’s Fall Festival.

The bass thumb piano.

Donna playing Reid vibraphone.

From the folk school we drove to Washington DC to show our books to Mark Dimunation, Rare Book Librarian at the Library of Congress. If you visit the LOC you can now find a few more of our books there.

We have one more week on the road, one more weekend in a campground somewhere in New Jersey, and then we tuck our wagon in for the winter and fly home. We will return to North Carolina and the Folk School the third week of February. We will take some more classes, teach a ukulele class again, then be traveling across the southern US. Care to join us on some part of the journey?

Sunday, September 28, 2014

John C Campbell Folk School in Beautiful North Carolina

Even Wandering Book Artists need rest and recreation from time to time, and our favorite place for R&R is in North Carolina at the John C Campbell Folk School. Throughout the year they offer a class in almost any craft. We are taking Blacksmithing (Peter), Coppersmithing (Donna, week 1), glass bead making (Donna, week 2) and in Peter's case, teach a class in beginning uke playing is recreation.

Peter had lots of fun at the final performance, joined on stage by his class and the painting class's paintings.

We love the folk school. There is nothing like this place in California. We will be back there from Feb 15 - 27th. Peter is teaching another beginning uke class Feb 22-27. Check out the classes being offered next February when we will back here.  Come join us!

Donna's copper book cover

Gypsy wagon series, copper belt buckle

Before we got here, we had successful visits in Connecticut and Pennsylvania, then we had an automotive break down (broken fuel injector line) in Altoona, PA. We were towed by a tow truck driver who was afraid of driving hills and over bridges, so we drove a very nice back roads all the way to the repair shop. I thought it was cool that he could still do his job with that particular phobia!

Pulled over at a rest stop in Virginia. we met Abel Zimmerman, of Zyl Vardos. He is featured in the same Shelter book we are, "Tiny Homes on the Move." He had just dropped off his most recent vardo for a customer. He drove it all the way from Washington State. Great guy with great building skills! You can read about our meeting on his Facebook Page 

Our books, set up for a showing at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston!
We are back on the road again the 6th of October with visits to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Baltimore and Washington DC! Let us know if you want us to stop by.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Life in the Wagon: The Odd Questions

We spent this week in New England.

We had an open house in the gypsy wagon in the street in front of Lee MacDonald and Ann Marie Stein’s house in Newton, MA. The highlight may have been the Book Arts Folk Song sing-along. State folklorist, Maggie Holtzberg, who was there to document these folk songs in the making, joined us playing her fiddle. We did not have printed song sheets so everyone just turned on lap top computers and iphones, and opened the pdfs from our website, Some may see it as ironic, but we think it more just the way things are going. 

The other highlight happened after a few glasses of wine. We belted out all the odd camp songs we could remember, most under the category of “songs that should no longer be sung in public.”

We always say that you have to be ready for lots of visitors with lots of questions when you travel in a gypsy wagon like ours. People can be seen gazing around with wide eyes, just wondering what it is. Like this fellow who stuck his head in the door just as I was taking a picture of the Boston MFA sculpture in the parking lot. He had never seen anything like it. "You really opened my eyes." is what he said.

We visited the Rhode Island School of Design. The thing we noticed there was that every single student was engaged by the wagon and our books. Sometimes when our wagon is on the green, or a quad, of a college we see students just walk by without even noticing it is there. We wonder about that.

Across the hall from the RISD Special Collections Library is the Materials Resource Library. What a cool thing. Shelves of color, shape and texture. The items can be checked out, but are only for reference and not for use. There is supplier information attached if a student wants to buy it.

We gave and evening showing of our books for students at the Creative Arts Workshop in New Haven, CT and got a nice noir photo.

Sometimes we get a memorable odd question. Here are a few good ones:
“Do you smoke weed in there? Too bad, that would make it more authentic ‘hippie’.”
How do you drive it? (Meaning: where are the steering wheel and engine?)
Can you drive it on the highway? (Yikes, that’s a lot of back roads, all the way from California!)
Pointing to the refrigerator they ask,” Is that a photocopier?”
A toll collector recently said: “I’m trying to figure out what it is. Is that a fancy outhouse?”
Where is the shower? (That is the polite way of finding out if we have a toilet in the wagon.)

Here is another story: We were camping in State College, PA, at a Walmart (if you can call that camping.) About 9:30 pm we heard a clank on the bell to get our attention. We thought it was going to be the police, but instead it was a long haired gentleman from the nearby mountains who just wanted to tell us, “I have been following this tiny house thing. This is the first I ever saw. I am in awe."

Well it happened again. Another fuel injector line broke and with desiel gas spraying everywhere we pulled over on the side of the highway till the tow truck got us. It took a second truck to pull the gypsy wagon and we spent the night in the parking lot courtesy of Courtesy Dodge in Altoona, PA. They were awesome getting us back on the road.

We are on our way to Brasstown NC for two weeks, where Peter teaches a week long ukulele class. Then we head up through Washington DC, Baltimore, Pennsylvania and New Jersey, ending up a Rutgers for a big event with the Art Library on October 14.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Weekdays - Libraries. Weekends - Jazz and Tugboats

This week (Sept 1-7) we continued our whirlwind tour of mid-west universities, showing our books to librarians and students, just outside the caravan. Michigan State University, the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, Oberlin and the Rochester Institute of Technology.

Lansing, MI

Ann Arbor, MI

Oberlin, OH


Hampshire, MA 
(I know,  we're not in the midwest anymore, but we wanted to include the photo.)

RIT’s Cary Collection had the nicest bunch of hand presses that we have seen anywhere. “We need one to show each style of toggle.” I think that is how they put it…


Like all normal working wandering book artists we celebrate and make the most of our weekends. On Saturday we went to Albany, NY for the Riverside Jazz Festival, and on Sunday to the Tug Boat Roundup in nearby Waterford NY.

We have a few good stories from the weekend.

Jazz: Because of the threat of rain (more than threat - it poured) the Albany Jazz Festival was moved from a beautiful riverside amphitheater to a cement shelter under Interstate 780. The first two acts were instrumental New Orleans and then vocal Ella Fitzgerald styles of Jazz. The headliner was Jack Dejohnette, with John Coltrane’s son, Ravi Coltrane. It was the kind of jazz that, like some styles of modern art, I want to like, but can't figure it out!

The Tug Boat Roundup: Pete Seeger was instrumental in the victory of the battle to clean up the Hudson River. The companies that were guilty of polluting, in the process of cleaning, got most of the locks on the Erie Canal working again, so navigation is now possible. We met a crew who had barged from Vermont to Waterford for the festival. They brought Vermont goods to sell and were pioneering the reuse of the waterways for commerce and pleasure. We decided that we want to tour the great lakes some day by boat! Do you think we could do a wandering book arts tour by barge?

The Twelve Tribes: At a turnout, a beat-up sedan pulled up next to us and the passenger stuck out his head to say something about our wagon. His eyes had that certain look of earnest bliss. I looked inside and saw the back seat was full of potatoes. I forgot to take pictures of it, but I am telling the truth. They said they were part of the "Twelve Tribes" and did we want some potatoes or corn and would we stop by their home for a cup of Mate`, to show the others our wagon and see the Yellow Deli café they were getting ready to open? OK, we were curious. We followed them, and as we drove Donna read about the 12 tribes. It is a messianic Christian community with all possessions held in common. They have been accused of brainwashing and child abuse, and praised for their paramedical and food ministries at huge youth gatherings. We didn't see any of that. They invited us to see the new cafe they were creating in throwback 70's Hippie style, all wood and macramé. Think we should add macramé to the gypsy wagon?

We were treated to ice tea and introductions all round. .Everyone was friendly, happy and blissful. One woman told me, “I was a misfit before and now I have a home.” Isn't it true that everyone just wants to have friends, community and a home. Everyone wanted to see inside the wagon. It turns out the 12 tribes have a fleet of converted school busses that they use to take their paramedical and food services to large outdoor events, like a recent Phish concert.

One week later:

if you are in the Boston area we would like to invite you to an open house party to see our gypsy wagon artists’ bookmobile:
When: September 12, 2014 at 6pm till the cows come home.
Where: The party is hosted by Lee McDonald at his home, 31 Madoc St. Newton MA 02459
What: Tour the wagon, see our books, join us singing book arts folks songs.
Food: It will be a pot luck sort of gathering. BYO everything… or just stop by.