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....

Sunday, December 31, 2017

Collegiate Gothic

You may have noticed in past blogs that we commented on visiting a sizable number of really ornate libraries with buildings that looked like castles or churches, and you may also have noticed our wondering about why and wherefore. Well Cara List, the rare book librarian at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, finally explained it to us. The style is called Collegiate Gothic, and it was an attempt by young universities in the USA to create "a scholastic atmosphere" and gain credibility by emulating the libraries of the more venerable and esteemed universities in England, like the ones at Cambridge or Oxford.

Of course there are may non-gothic university libraries. For example the next library we visited after Northwestern was Chicago University. Leave it to the campus where the A bomb got its start with the first controlled nuclear chain reaction to build a library that looks like a space ship.

Monday, November 27, 2017

Horn Books

We are home now, and working on a final blog post. But, before we do that there are few things we want to post about. One is the Horn Book collection at the Philadelphia Free Library.Hornbooks were the first form of children's books. The first known mention of the hornbook was in 1442 and they remained in use in the classroom through the nineteenth century. The simplest and most common hornbook was made of wood and shaped like a paddle. Often rope was threaded through a hole at the end of the handle so it could be worn around the neck or attached to the belt. A lesson, like the alphabet, a syllabary, or a a religious verse was written out on a piece of parchment (and later on paper). That was laid on the wood and covered with a transparent flattened cow's horn that was fastened to the wood paddle. The horn protected the lesson sheet and gives the hornbook its name. The PFL has over 100 examples of vintage horn books in manyshapes and sizes. You can also see the first image in our earlier post:

Thursday, November 9, 2017

Hamilton Wayzgoose: Type Lovers Unite!

If you love wood type and letterpress printing... especially the bold and exciting work being done these days in the showcard poster/broadside world, you need to go to Two Rivers, Wisconsin for the Hamilton Wood Type Museum Wayzgoose

We arrived Thursday for the three-plus day affair and took a selfie at their wood type wall:

On Thursday we printed a folder to hold the broadsides the students printed on Friday in our workshop titled letterpress printing with wood type. By the way Hamilton IS the "coolest place in town..." at least in Two Rivers, WI anyways.

The participants in our workshops were challenged to make images of bugs or beasts using wood type. The wood type museum is a paradise for wood type lovers. We taught 2 classes, each for 3 hours, with 15 people in each, working in teams of 3 on 5 different presses. We had them make 40 copies, so that each participant would get one of each print that was made. Most of the folks got at least 30 "perfect" copies and most had time to do 3 different color runs.

Here are the classes and the work: You are really going to have to zoom in to see what they made!

Next year... Can't wait!

Monday, November 6, 2017

On Tour: We Feel a Little like Rock Stars

Forty years of making books is a real milestone. Since we left home in August we have visited over 30 universities. And yes, at times we think we know what it must feel like to be touring rock stars: We drive a good part of every day to get from somewhere to somewhere, arrive in town just in time to set up for what ever we have going on, and then pack up and find a place to park and sleep in the caravan. Lucky we usually are parked in a kind person's driveway, or in a pretty campground, but also usually we get there too late to enjoy any natural beauty!

But Oh! is it ever exhilarating and rewarding to see our 40 year shows. This last week were in Milwaukee, where Max Yela and his staff in Special Collections Library at University of Wisconsin have hosted a show of our work in the Golda Meir Library.

We were also this year's featured Ettinger Family Book Artists Series Lecturers. Thanks goes out to Suzy Ettinger who funds this endeavor. Everyone benefits: the artists, the library, the students, as well as the general public. Everyone is invited to attend and they do. Even on Halloween, a crowd showed up for artists' books! Peter ends the talk with a song:

The show presents about 100 of our editioned books in 10 in the cases, showing the books in chronological order. Below is a case with our very first books, made in 1977. Line drawings, etchings and very white handmade paper:

And here are two cases with work from the last few years:

It was a special treat to see the 2002 Wildflowers of the John Muir Trail and Landscapes of the John Muir Trail accordion books opened out full length to display the illustrations. They feature digital reproductions of Donna's original watercolor paintings and handwritten text, printed on Peter's handmade paper. If you want to see more about our current books for sale you can look on our website. Click here to see it.

And, if you want to see a short video showing the whole show at UWM here is a link to it on YouTube: Just click here!

Life as a touring rock and roll star, or even a wandering book artist, can be a hectic lifestyle but there are rewards: we can't say enough about  the wonderful people we have met at our talks and workshops around the country, and all the librarians who have supported us and are dedicated to the kind of art we are all so passionate about.

And last but not least: The catalog for the shows is available on Amazon. You can just search for "Peter and Donna Thomas The Work of 40 Years" or here is the link

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Autumn color for the Artists

Last week we traveled from New Haven, CT to Kalamazoo, MI. Our schedule was full with all the driving and with visits to Penn State, The Morgan Conservatory, Cleveland Institute of Art, University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Elderly Instruments, and Michigan State University in East Lansing.  As the weeks have passed and we moved further north and later into the season we have found ourselves regaled with the vibrant fall colors of the trees with their bright leaves falling all around us. Being Wandering Book Artists from the west coast, the autumn colors here in the east have amazed us, and we have been left completely surprised when folks out here have told us that this year has not been as vibrant as in years past!

Fort Custer State Park. A beautiful place for fall wandering.

Hardwoods turning golden.

We visited Fort Custer State Park with our friends, the artists Ladislav Hanka and Jana Hanka, near Kalamazoo. Along with gleaning apples from an abandoned orchard, we swam in Lake Michigan, foraged mushrooms (puffballs, cooked and eaten at three meals) and hiked in the woods. Above is some milkweed with bugs we found there.

We stayed with wood engraver Jim Horton and his partner Rowena who live down this leafy drive near Ann Arbor. The drive ended in a circle that was just a bit too tight for the truck and trailer and we had a heck of a time getting back out, but stuff like that happens when you travel in a Tiny Home. Jim is a letterpress printer, an antique collector with the worlds largest collection of pencil sharpeners, and he grows his own popcorn! Take a class with Jim at the John C. Campbell folk school when you can. He is an excellent teacher and we are always impressed with the quality of work his students produce at JCC.

We passed Amish farmers harvesting their fields in rural Pennsylvania. A nice sight: seeing these horses pulling old harvesting equipment down the road in the morning light. There was a young man driving the wagon, standing tall, the picture of health, head held high,  floppy hat flapping in the wind.

Peter demonstrated papermaking to the students at University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, shaded by the leaves on a sunny fall day. We pulled right into the center of north campus, gave tours, talked to three art classes, and surprised many engineering majors who happened to wander by. 

Donna showing her books "Stories in the Rocks" and "Hetch Hetchy Flora" to the students in Ann Arbor. The class, titled Florilegium: A Plant Compendium taught by Cathy Berry focused on botanical illustration and the final project will require each student to make an accordion book. Peter had been talking, had played a song on his ukulele, and the students were all sitting at their seats listening studiously, but when Donna opened her book all hell broke loose and the students flew out of their seats to crowd around her and look. Her book was exactly what they were supposed to make and a complete and total inspiration. It was quite a moment and I tried my best to catch it in a photo.

Eric Alstrom of the Conservation Department and Peter stand beside the one of the displays of our books in the Michigan State University Library. This library has a good number of our works in their special collections, and this show is part of our celebration of 40 years of making books!

The books on display in East Lansing, MI.

Peter gave a talk about our 40 years of work. He has given 100s of talks and is hardly ever thrown off his stride, but when the tech person turned off the powerpoint and filled the screen with a huge detail of the book Peter was showing he couldn't stop looking over his shoulder to see who was behind him. He is showing "Sometimes I Pretend", a scrolling book with a poem by Naomi Shihab Nye. Find it on our website: Sometimes I Pretend.

Now we are in Indiana, at Hook Paper and Pottery. Andrea Peterson and Jon Hook are having their fall sale next weekend. If you are anywhere near stop by. They will have homemade treats and libation to induce you to buy their ceramics, hot sauce, body balm, candles and more. It has rained all day. LaPorte got several inches of rain yesterday and over 10 inches since last week. But we are nice and dry in the caravan. Even though it is tiny, it is cozy and comfortable.

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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.