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....

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.


Molly said...

Thanks for posting about your trip to RISD. No surprise that the students were more receptive there. And the materials library — wonderful! Please come back this way if you are driving through Ohio.

Connie+ said...

Just wanted to stop in and say Hi. I found your blog through the Zyl Vardos FB post where you all happened across one another on the highway.

I see I just missed you in our area. Darn! I'll have to sign up and perhaps catch you on another cross country trip.

Thank you for adding such beauty to the world.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful post guys! I've bookmarked it for reading later tonight, just wanted to drop by and say hello. All the best, Paul

folding sport wagon said...

GOod... Enjoy your journey!!