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, October 13, 2017

Gipsy Life in the Providence Athenaeum*

The Providence Athenaeum was "just what I imagine the library at Hogwarts was like." That was what the guy standing next to me said, as I took my panorama picture.


And it sort of was. There was still a card catalog.

Donna started look through it and found that the 397s had books under the heading in the catalog: "Gypsies".

After searching around she found the 300 section and then an interesting book.

It was full of really wonderful line drawings.

*"Gipsy" is the spelling that was used in 19th century England. Kenneth Grahame in "the Wind in the Willows" uses this spelling. 

Caravan is the English word for what we in the USA call a trailer. Some other words that have been to describe the same vehicles are "wagon, waggon, van, caravan and living wagon" We describe our trailer as a tiny home on wheels, or  as a caravan designed after the 19th century wagons built in Reading, England. Such caravans were primarily built for the English Romani (sometimes spelled Romany or written as Roma) people. The Romani word for a horse drawn living wagon is 'vardo'. This word is sometimes used to describe any trailer with a curved roof.

Monday, October 9, 2017

From Swarthmore to Vassar

Last week we visited the Cathedral of Books (in the Peabody Library at John Hopkins University) and this week we visited the library at Vassar that really did look like a castle.

This week we saw some book related things we want to share with you:

The Philadelphia Free Library

We saw part of their collection of “horn books”. For those unfamiliar with the genre, a horn book is more like a chalk board than a book, a hand held object with written or printed text under a flattened layer of transparent animal horn. The PFL has hundreds of interestingly shaped horn books in their collection and had a few on display in the special collections.

University of Pennsylvania

We saw an engaging show of books from the Mid East and Asia. The use of color and the placement of text on a page differs wildly from our modern fine press aesthetic and inspired visions of possible books we could make in the future

Cornell and Vassar

Between Ithaca and Poughkeepsie we saw some incredible leaf books and some very colorful leaves.


Surprise! And finally....

We want to thank all the folks at Swarthmore for hosting a show of our books in their library as part of our 40 year celebration. We visited on Monday October 2, 2017, both to see the show and give a papermaking demonstration. The demonstration is worth mentioning because was the first time we used the new mould and deckle made for us by Brian Queen. Brian used a CMC machine to make the mould and deckles, and a 3d printer to make the watermarked screen.


Some of the best days are finished off with the best nights spent in leafy campsites. This one is in Lackawanna State Park in Pennsylvania.

Monday, October 2, 2017

From Book Lair to Book Cathedral

This was a week full of wandering and full of wandering book artists' style adventures. It started with a visit to the lair of book beasts, the workshop of Daniel Essig, one of the rock stars of the book arts world. His art is rich and complex, with earth-made vitality imbued by his signature use of mica and metal. His works are held together with bone, leather and linen, and are full of myth and fairy tale metaphor. You probably have seen his work and maybe even tried to copy it too. It just is so appealing. Look for a class with him at Penland or really anywhere around the country. He wanders almost as often as we do!

Peter and Daniel share stories in the studio...

Some super nice old presses in the Essig studio.
Anyone know anything about the small one on the right?

Library visits, book arts students, hauling the rolling suitcases full of books: these are a few of my favorite things this week. We visited librarians at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill and Greensboro, Longwood University in Farmville, Virginia, Goucher College, Johns Hopkins University and Maryland Institute of the Arts in Baltimore. We are getting better at the bookish smart talk about our art... It's fun to find new ways of talking about the uniqueness of each book and to find the obvious reasons that it would fit perfectly in a library's special collection.

In this photo faculty and students join us for lunch in the gazebo next to our sweet camping spot, where we spent two nights in the very center of Goucher College in Baltimore. If our door was open passing students would stop to look and talk. We appreciate our renaissance book as art scholar host April Oettinger, who arranged for us to give a lecture as part of our 40 year celebration, a stuffed to the gills bookbinding workshop in the library, and lunch, dinner, and an appointment with the librarian as well!

The Cathedral of Books! This was Baltimore's first public library, built by George Peabody in the mid-1800s. It is now part of Johns Hopkins University. The fantastic architecture creates an impressive cathedral-like ambience. We were thrilled to have our books spread out over a table in one of the alcoves on the first floor, surrounded by Mr. Peabody's well-used books, many with broken bindings only held together by wrappings of linen tape, as the special collections librarian studied them.

In the "Cathedral of Books," we saw this great engraving in a book on display titled, "Death by Library." I start to feel like this after too many hours inside of too many libraries, so I try to get outside when I can, and so as often as possible we spend the weekends camping in a state park so we canwalk through the trees and by the bays found on the eastern coast of our USA.

We are impressed by the level of engagement and commitment we have found in the book arts students we have talked to. They understand the complexity of the art form, and don't doubt Peter when he says that artists' books will be the dominate art form by the end of the 21st century! Now we just have to work at getting more collectors on board!

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Next year, join us at the Folk School!

Another week has gone by at the John C. Campbell Folk School. Peter taught a beginning ukulele class with an enthusiastic group, who succeeded in making a music video, writing a song, and performing for the Folk School twice! Fun, and they learned to play the uke too! Next May 13th - 18th, join Peter for another beginning ukulele class, and stay for the weekend class, "Join the Jug Band!"

Here is Peter's ukulele class from this week, having just finished recording the music video. You can see it on You Tube. Sleepwalking in a Tiny Home! 

How fun it is to have friends Peggy and Kay to play music with in Brasstown!

The new printshop at the folk school. Wow. We'll come back some coming year to teach a book arts class in this beautiful and well-equipped space.

The paper making shop adjoins the printshop and bindery. 

Donna took a natural dyeing workshop and she is very happy with her 25 or so new colors.

Next week we start our rambling again, heading up to Universities in Chapel Hill, NC, Farmville and  Richmond, VA, and Baltimore, MD. Whew!

Sunday, September 17, 2017

I Sing Behind the Plow

We have just driven the miles and miles across the US. Partly because we have all the appointments in the east, also because we love visiting the John C. Campbell Folk School. First, let's check out the highlights of the last couple of weeks:


The show of our work at the University of Iowa Special Collections Library ran July 6- September 13, 2017. It was the first exhibition of our work to celebrate 40 years of making books. Thanks Iowa, for supporting our work. The second show is at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, running from August 7- October 7, 2017.

Gary Frost, from the conservation department at the U, tries to talk Peter into a questionable repair of the wagon.
Always a pleasure to share our work, here with MFA students of the book arts in the University of Iowa paper making class.
Donna knitting beside the Iowa River, flowing by the University


In Champaign Urbana we visited the University of Illinois and among other things saw an amazing book by a little known jeweler named Ernest Rinzi. It is written in code that has not yet been deciphered. The illustrations were composed by arranging his handwriting to create the image.

You can read more about it on the University Tumbler page:…/ernest-rinzi-all-from-god-…

Cincinnati, Ohio:

Peg Rhein has welcomed us again at her home. She hosted a meeting of the Cincinnati Book Arts Society, with a tour of the wagon, then  potluck dinner and time for sharing work.

Here is Donna showing the book, "Sometimes I Pretend" at the CBAS gathering.
Parked for the night beside Peg's sunflower garden: so lovely.


Berea, Kentucky is a town that is dedicated to craft work, filled with stores featuring the work of Kentucky's finest artisans. On the edge of town, at the Kentucky Artisan Center we found the work of fine press printer Gray Zeitz of Larkspur Press. Displayed in a glass case, just like the jewelry, was one of his letterpress printed and handbound books that feature the poems of  Frederick Smock, poet laureate of Kentucky 2017 - 2018. Gray exclusively prints Kentucky poets and he's been doing it for years. 

Beautiful letterpress books printed by Larkspur Press

We have been visiting libraries across the country, but near Berea we found a very different kind of library:

McHargue's Mill in London, KY
The library of mill stones

 North Carolina:

"I Sing Behind the Plow." That is the motto of the John C Campbell Folk School. We enjoy our work! And this week we have toiled away, learning the craft of cordwaining (that is the archaic description of a shoe maker). The instructors this week were Peggy and Chuck Patrick, of Old Time Way, and we recommend taking a class from them if you can!

Donna on the left, Peter's boots on the right.
Amanda, Donna, Sarah, Rhonda and Kristen in their new handmade shoes!

Cheers! Come join us for a glass of wine in the caravan when we come through your town!

Folk School campsite