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 other vendors had made to sleep in or use as booths to sell their wares from. In 2009 they built their own tiny home "caravan", designed after a typical 1900s Redding style of English Gypsy Wagon. This blog documents their trips around the country to sell their books, teach book arts workshops, and talk about making books as art; and to seek out and find beauty in the landscape of the USA.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Crossing into other worlds and crossing paths with another Gypsy Wagon

So, just for fun, let’s work backwards in this post. We are in New Orleans and have spent the last two days on our “Roots of Jug Band” pilgrimage visiting Tulane University Library’s Jazz Music Archives and the “Crescent City’s” French Quarter. At Tulane we looked into the “spasm bands” of the 1920s, which were popular before the emergence of jug bands. These were bands, mostly young kids, playing homemade instruments like tin pots, cigar box ukes, and earthen jugs.

Spasm band of long ago

In the French Quarter we listened to the music, and the hustle and jive of street performers. There were brassy loud parades, older jazz standard musicians and scrappy young musicians with thrown-together bands all playing in the middle of partially blocked off streets, moving aside to let an occasional car go by, not ever stopping their tunes. We were on Bourbon Street on Saturday evening, where live music and stale alcohol air pours out of every bar. Honest to god, there were 1000’s of drunk and still-drinking people roaming and wandering the street, or in the balconies above (there is no open container law). We stopped long enough to hear a few songs from the cajun bands then, steering clear of the drunks and speeding cars, we returned to the safety and sanctity of the caravan.

Wedding "second line" on Royal Street

Street vendor of hot dogs in New Orleans

Before NOLA, we were in Lumberton MS, in another sort of world. We were at a "Society for Creative Anachronism" event called the Gulf Wars (That has been the name for over 20 years, long before the Mideast one.) The SCA is the group that does medieval battle reenactments. We watched one “battle” where two hundred metal-armored soldiers bopped and poked each other with blunted lances and padded swords for over an hour in humid 80-degree weather. They love it so much that they don’t mind the all-over sweat-soaked garb. As well as fighting in period costumes they offer workshops on “period” crafts. Donna took a class where she baked bread in a wood fired oven and Peter took a class where he learned to make the tools to mint his own coins.

loitering at the war

Peter's die, punches and coins

Donna's instructor at the earthen oven 

Before visiting the SCA event we were in Memphis, still another world, with Stax records and its extended run-down neighborhoods of turn-of-the-century homes. There we continued our Jug Band pilgrimage, visiting Beale Street with its lights and music joints. We stayed in the Cooper Young district in the parking lot of Tsunami Restaurant and gave a talk next door at Burke’s Book Shop, an independent shop celebrating its 140 th birthday. If you are ever in Memphis visit them both!

Peter on Beale Street

Parking at Tsunami, best asian restaurant in Memphis

Oh yes, on the tiny home front… We can’t forget this... We saw another vardo at the Gulf Wars. Vardo is the word that some Romany (Gypsy) people use to describe their wagons. This was a ledge style wagon and was just completed two weeks ago, so was on its maiden voyage.


CMonkey Girl said...

Loved this post. I want to see New Orleans, but the drunk street scene is old and boring. Did you write any songs Peter? Donna how much cooking do you get to do in the wagon? Sorry we missed you guys in SC. Happy trails,
Celina and Howie from Friday Harbor

Gayle said...

I was wondering if you were members of the SCA? Is Pennsic on your plans? I've been reading your blog for a while and I would love to see you home in person. Plus there is a huge number of great Gypsy Wagons on site at Pennsic, a great time to look at all those interesting homes.

GrellBoards Snurfing said...

You both need to write a book of your adventures. Safe Travels. JG

tma said...

When ya comin home?

Tanya Cothran said...

I hope you did some dancing in NOLA! Enjoy the warmth...

Peter and Donna Thomas said...

You can visit early in the day/eve and not on bourbon street and there are fewer drunks. I cook most nights on the caravan, mostly sauté dishes in one pot! Peter is always writing songs!

Peter and Donna Thomas said...

We are not members and have never taken part in SCA in the west, where we live. We attended Pennsic in 2010 and I watercolored paintings of all the wagons there for a book we editioned called Song of the Open Road. Check it out on our website! Http://

Peter and Donna Thomas said...

A book, oh, we love books!!!

Peter and Donna Thomas said...

April mid month. Who is asking?

Peter and Donna Thomas said...

In the streets!

Joe Petruska said...

Happened to see your picture of your hammered coins. I am an SCA member and I have been attempting to catalog such hand made coins. Not to be a nuisance but, could you tell me any other info about the coins? What are they made of? Size? Have you made more than one design? Could you post (or send me) a clear photo of both sides of your coin? What does the design represent? Ok, enough questions. Hoping to hear from you. Thanks in advance, Joe