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....

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

The publication party for The Tuckenhay Mill: People and Paper

Saturday May 13th, 2017 was the big day. In the first post we made about our wander to England we explained that about thirty years ago we first met and interviewed some retired hand papermakers from Tuckenhay, a small village in rural Devon, England. On this trip we were back to celebrate the completion of the project to document those interviews, a fine press book we had made titled, “Tuckenhay: People and Paper.” The publication party was at the Tuckenhay Mill, which is now vacation cottages. About sixty people gathered. At least half were relatives of the papermakers we had interviewed, and many others had family members who had worked in the Mill. 

The celebration was all that we could have hoped for and more. It was such a real pleasure to meet the people we had been corresponding with over the last 5 years as we worked to finish up the book.

Peter first told the story of making the book, which involved interviewing the papermakers and then trying to understand the Devon accents, collecting the paper samples from the mill, and organizing hours of cassette recordings into a cohesive narrative. On top of all that, there was a problem with the timing of the publication having to do with the life and death of the last owner of the mill who was so bitter about its bankruptcy!  After that we had members from the audience tell what their connection was to the mill.

One big surprise was to meet John Stevens, who now at 87, was actually the last apprentice at Tuckenhay Mill. If you read the book you will see that we thought Ron Eden was the last, and Ron claimed he was too, but it was really John. And John could tell some good stories, good enough to make us wish we had known him in the 1990s and would have included his stories in our book.  

Another treat was to meet Tom and Pearl Wakeham’s two sons and one of their daughters. Sam and Kitty Cox’s son Pat Cox was there, along with grandson Steve Cox. Steve was the catalyst for finishing up the project. Ron Eden’s two sisters were there, and we met others who had worked in the mill, and some who were children of mill workers. Many of the people gathered had not seen each other for years, so it was exciting for them as well as it was for us. The room was hushed as each got up to tell their story. There was sadness expressed about the mill’s closing, but there was a healing spirit in the room as we listened to the old stories about how this small community had lived and worked together so closely with one another. Names and contact information were exchanged, and we hope that this will be a catalyst for members of the community to connect in new ways. 

Cyril Finn. Photo by Ski Harrison
Kitty Cox. Photo by Ski Harrison

Pearl and Tom Wakeham with their son. Photo by Ski Harrison
We also met local photographer Ski Harrison, who has lived in Tuckenhay since 1975. She had met and photographed most of the people we interviewed. The stories she told us reminded us of how profound the change in the area has been. The papermakers we met were people from the end of an era. Their parents were born before WWI, and when they grew up most people had never traveled further than 50 miles from their home.  Until after WWII there were only two cars in Tuckenhay, one owned by the mill and the other by the mechanic. There were no phones in the houses, and many did not have indoor running water, toilets or baths. People kept gardens and animals for food, fished with nets in the creek, and what goods they did not make themselves they got from the village carpenter, blacksmith or small shops. They relied on one another. And they saw Tuckenhay and its neighboring villages change from being remote and insular, primarily agricultural rural villages, to becoming the home to commuters and vacation home owners, where often people no longer even know their neighbors' names.

Afterward we went down to the local pub where the papermakers had always gathered, to have a pint and talk things over with our collaborators: Steve and Penny Cox, Gillian Fulford, and George Collings.

George shared a few interesting items he had in his memorabilia collection:

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