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, 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.

1 comment:

Tanya Cothran said...

Adventures indeed! I love seeing the colorful tugboats!