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?