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....

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

A Wandering Folly (or two)

“Folly” is a British word they use to describe a “crazy” house and it is an American word for a crazy thing to do. Both follies apply to us.  Our trip as wandering book artists may seem a fools’ errand to many: trying to spread the word about the artists’ book by travelling around the country in a gypsy wagon. To some our wagon home seems the most outrageous of RVs in any campground.

When we made our first blog post we were in Nevada and now we are in Nebraska. We have found a few other follies along the road. The first was “Thunder Mountain,” a rambling set of structures built just off Interstate 80 in Imlay, Nevada.  It was built in the 50s and 60s by Frank Van Zant, also known as Chief Rolling Mountain Thunder, who described his roadside art park variously as a museum, a monument to the American Indian, a retreat for pilgrims aspiring to the “pure and radiant heart.” It is filled with crumbling cement statues, wobbly architectural towers and weeds growing up through stone huts.

The second sort of folly, perhaps more interesting to the book lovers that read this blog was the Gilgul Sculpture Garden Park in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was built between 1947 and 1963 by LDS businessman Thomas Battersby Child, Jr. and is the only designated "visionary art environment" in the state of Utah. The park is filled with symbolic statuary associated with the Morman Religion. There are sculptures and over 70 stones engraved with scriptures, poems and literary texts.

Then there was our own campsite-finding folly in Fossil Butte, Wyoming. The guidebook said to just follow the gravel road a mile and there will be a campsite in an old gravel quarry. We found the quarry, but only after going by the “No Trespassing” signs, and by the height of the weeds in the road it was clear no one else had attempted to stay there for years.

This is only a partial folly, or no folly at all. It is the wall mural made by Karen Kunc at her new “Constellation Studio” in Lincoln, Nebraska. Kunc has converted an old mercantile building into a studio space where visiting visual artists can come to work with her. One outside wall is painted with a mammoth version of her typically etching press-sized artwork.

We are continuing our way across the country and will end this week in Chicago on Friday afternoon at the Newberry Library.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Rock and Roll Stars? NO, Book Artists on Tour!

Wandering Book Artists: 2014 Day One

The road has called to us again and we left today on our third Wandering Book Artists cross-country road trip. Our schedule, who made it? We are going to be like a rock and roll band on  tour: this week its Reno, Provo, Salt Lake City, Logan and Cheyenne. Next week its Lincoln, Grinnell, Peoria, Normal, Urbana and Chicago. The week after that its Kalamazoo, Lansing, Ann Arbor, Cleveland and Rochester. Then we are on to New England... We will be showing our artist’s books at libraries, talking to book arts classes, teaching paper making and bookbinding and generally spreading word of creative joy like wandering book artists traveling in a colorful gypsy wagon should do.

You’d think that after already making two cross-country trips as Wandering Book Artists we would know what we were doing. We told a few friends that we were pulling the gypsy wagon out of the driveway at 10 am and leaving at 11. When they arrived after their morning surfing session, at about 11:30, we were still there After their morning surfing session, our friends Wendy Treat, Jay Bowyer and John Miles came by to send us off. With their encouragement we pulled out of our steep driveway. These three musicians, along with Ron Clegg, Gary Cunningham, Celina Gutierrez and Howard Wright, helped Peter on a last minute project to record his “book arts folk songs.” There are some great songs on it, like, “Book Arts Gals,” based on “Buffalo Gals,” and “Makin’ Paper,” based on “Makin’ Whoopie.” You get the idea!

The CD cover was letterpress printed using old wood type and hand made by Peter.
The CD will be available on our web site pretty soon.
Celina, Howard, Peter, Gary
The only excitements for the day’s drive were a VW camper’s wheel catching fire in front of us on the highway, and a sagebrush hillside smoking from a wildfire earlier in the day a few miles away from where camped in a beautiful sage and pine forest near Truckee.

Boca Reservoir Campground
Waking early, we drove to the U of Nevada, set out our books using the gypsy wagon as a gallery.

Donnelyn Curtis, the special collections librarian, saved us a trip hauling the books into the library by coming out to the wagon to look at the books. After that we were off, heading across the desert for Salt Lake City.

You can expect to hear from us once a week or so as we make our way across the country. Let us know if you would like us to stop in your town!