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, April 17, 2015

Return from the Open Road: The Final Blog Post for the Third Trip of Peter and Donna Thomas as Wandering Book Artists

Well, it is over. We are home. We started the eastward leg of the trip in August of 2014. In October we left the truck and book arts wagon in Winston-Salem NC and flew home for the holidays. After the CODEX book fair, in early February of 2015, we returned to the truck and trailer and started our westward/homeward trip. Although the whole trip trip has been documented in previous posts, we want to share a few highlights of the trip using a few photos as visual aids.

We traveled a total of 13,332 miles: from the heat of the desert in summer to the leaf peeping color of the east coast in fall, then from late winter snows in the Appalachian mountains to spring and wildflowers through Texas and the southwest.

Fossil Butte, WY

Richmond, VA

Brasstown, NC

MTSU, Murphreesboro, TN

Texas bluebonnets and paintbrush

We spent exactly 120 days on the road, oddly enough they were divided exactly in half 60 days each direction.

Vedawoo, WY

We stayed in 17 state parks, 2 national parks, 5 RV parks, and 7 nights in Walmarts. We also stayed 41 nights in friends driveways, 8 on college campuses, 20 something at the John C Campbell Folk School and then a few more at places including an automobile repair yard waiting for it to open and fix our truck.

We visited 56 university special collection libraries.

Washington University, St Louis

We taught 15 book arts classes.

We gave 35 book arts talks.

We created 1 editioned artists’ book with students as visiting artists at MTSU, TN.

We gave 5 papermaking demonstrations.

Baylor University, Waco TX

We held 10 book arts folk song sing-alongs.

We made a video of this sing along. Here is the link.
Rutgers University

And we hosted endless numbers of visitors, who wanted to see into our tiny artists’ book home.

We found a few other tiny homes on the road, but none were like ours:

SCA event Lumberton MS

Haysville, NC

We visited 5 music libraries to gather information about the origins of jug band music.

Tulane's Hogan Jazz Archives

And we played music:
Peter taught two week-long beginning ukulele classes at the JCC FolkSchool: The assistant teacher Dave Peters made music videos during each class. Those are links to the videos.

We are looking forward to spending time in the studio and at home and don’t have any immediate plans for a fourth trip, but then who knows when we will next hear the call of the open road.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

The Gypsy Wagon Artists' Bookmobile meets The Type Truck

Half way through our first cross country as Wandering Book Artists, Donna and I heard about Kyle Durrie’s project to travel around the country in her TYPE TRUCK. She was demonstrating letterpress printing out of a 1982 step van that she converted to a bedroom/print shop outfitted with a working printing press and type to print with. 

Kyle lives in Silver City, New Mexico. We almost crossed paths one or twice, if you consider being in neighboring states as crossing paths. The last time we were in New Mexico she was in New England. But this time Kyle and the type truck were going to be home, so I routed the trip to pick up Donna at the rim of the Grand Canyon through Silver City to meet Kyle and see the type truck.

Kyle offered to organize a workshop at her Power and Light Print Shop for me to teach while in town. It is located right in the middle of Silver City’s business district. Silver City, founded as a mining town at about 6000 feet elevation now has a population of about 15,000. It is not a big district but has a thriving art and music scene.

1868 printshop in Silver City, used by permission Palace of the Governor,  Santa Fe NM
The class had seven students. Only one had ever made a book before, so everyone was challenged and had great fun learning something new.

Before I left town, I couldn’t resist taking the wandering wagon to meet the type truck. The type truck was beached with a flat so we couldn’t get them as close as hoped for the photo.

Kyle and I started dreaming about what fun it would be to travel around the country with type truck and wandering wagon, perhaps with a few other tiny homes on wheels, demonstrating books arts, giving talks, programming for libraries and playing music at breweries along the way. So, if you have a tiny home on wheels and that sounds fun let us know…

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

I saw miles and miles of Texas

When we were in Austin we met up with our niece (and goddaughter) Molly Howard who is doing her graduate work at UT and went out to hear a western swing band play....

The first song they played was Miles and Miles of Texas:

I rode up in to Austin the craddle of the west

Just ask any cowboy he'll tell you it's the best

I met a Texas beauty I got friendly with her pa

I looked in to her big blue eyes this is what I saw

I saw miles and miles of Texas all the stars up in the sky

I saw miles and miles of Texas gonna live here till I die

You know how songs get stuck in your head? Well I kept singing this song over and over the last two days as I drove from Austin to El Paso (without Donna, who flew to the Grand Canyon to go backpacking and painting). Here are some pictures of those miles.

Gypsy wagon near Llano
Gypsy wagon near Ozoona
Gypsy wagon near Fort Stockton
Gypsy wagon near Balmorhea
Gypsy wagon near Van Horn
Gypsy wagon near El Paso
From the inside looking out at Texas

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

45,000 miles of Book Arts

We’ve left behind the snow of the north and the humidity of the south, and now have entered the hot and dry west. We are staying in an RV campground in Texas, where the hardwoods shine in the last light of day with the new bright green leaves of spring. Just as we arrived the host rushed over to us asking if she could take a few quick promotional shots for "divine diva adventures" at the campground. We agreed and had hardly turned our backs when they had two beautiful white clad “divas” posing in the doorway of our wagon...

Meadowmere Park in Dallas, Texas
We have now driven more than 45,000 miles on our three trips across the country as wandering book artists. We have wanted to celebrate with a book arts cheer: “sew it, glue it, rah rah rah!” but really there aren’t any good book arts cheers yet, so this little celebration of what happens on trips will just have to do instead. Well first off we have given lots of tours of the wagon. Everyone wants to check it out and see inside. When they ask, "What is that?" We say, "Its a tiny home on wheels, an artist's interpretation of a RV trailer."

Students by wagon at Baylor Unibersity
Before we left home, we arranged to visit a number of special collection libraries at universities across the country, both to show them our recent work and to encourage them, in general, to collect artists’ books. The books always look so beautiful when spread out on the wooden tables of these library reading rooms:...

Books on display at Vanderbilt U in Nashville, TN

We have also been doing research on the history of Jug Band Music for a future project.

Peter with the giant disks in Memphis
We have taught bookbinding workshops where students learn how to make some of the binding structures we have developed and described in the book we wrote for Quarry Books titled “More Making Books By Hand."

When visiting universities Peter often has given talks to students about the history and future of the book as art. We have also taught papermaking workshops. 

Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge
Leslie Koptcho's Papermaking class 
Demonstration of hand papermaking at Baylor University
Iphone sized sheets of paper made during demonstration at Baylor University
Each lecture comes with musical entertainment as Peter sings a couple of book arts folk songs with his ukulele book!