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....

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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

Wandering in the spring of 2024 - California to Texas

On March 23, 2024 we left home, on our first trip as Wandering Book Artists since the pandemic stopped everything. The first thing we did was stop for gas, and the first thing that happened was a crowd of gas pumping patrons crowded around the wagon to get a closer look. It seems to have a magic that bridges over differences of age, ethnicity, regional differences and politics and creates a space where we get to share beauty and conversation with everyone. 

As Wandering Book Artists we also have the good fortune to visit and share with librarians, art students and professors, and members of community-based book arts centers in person. We get to talk about the future of the book as art, the skills involved in making books, and show them our artists' books. Everyone learns so much as we talk about each book while they look through them, turning pages or unrolling a scroll. We can share the inspirations that drove each decision in the making of the book. We talk about how the two of us work together, how we divide tasks, and give feedback to each other's ideas. And we also get the opportunity to learn from them through the questions, statement, thoughts, and the books they show us. 

First night out on the road

Our first library visit was to Scripps College in Claremont, California. We talked to a book arts class where they were getting ready to make their final book project of the semester. They analyzed book structures and printing techniques in our books. They asked good questions about the viability of making a living as a book artist. 

Librarian Jennifer Wormser brought a cart of early fine press printed books, including the Kelmscott Chaucer, the Allen Press's Youth, the Grabhorn's Leaves of Grass, and these books were studied and compared to our books on display. This is Granite and Cypress, printed by William Everson, Peter's printing mentor.

A book we made titled Hope? was in a show at the Clark Humanities Museum, curated by students at Scripps College. We received a last minute invitation to discuss what we learned making the books to a group of students, faculty and staff in the gallery.

Our next stop was Occidental College. We parked the caravan on campus right in front of the library. What a funny scene it was driving along sidewalks that were reserved (and filled with) pedestrians. While Peter talked to Jocelyn Pederson's letterpress printing class Donna stayed in the wagon watching over 75 people enter and marvel at its uniqueness and imagine the dreaminess of traveling around the country for a bit of one's life. 

Touring the caravan and looking at artists' books at Occidental College

Our host librarian, Helena De Lemos shared with us that most of the students we were meeting attended their last 2 years of high school through Zoom because of the pandemic, and in contrast to the past, they clearly value and appreciate being at school, being with other students and teachers, and taking advantage of the on-campus resources. 

In the print shop they set type, comparing the typographic nuances learned as apprentices: Jocelyn worked for the Robertsons at Yolo Bolly Press and Peter worked with William Everson at the Lime Kiln Press.

The Lowercase: Occidental College's letterpress shop

The Phoenix Public Library is a real showcase for a modern, beautiful, comfortable, sustainably-built library. If you get a chance, stop in for a visit. They also have a great archive of rare books which they regularly display from. Look for our Koch Real Accordion Book there!

Alex Mada, Phoenix Public Library Rare Books Room looking at our books

The next day Peter gave a short talk at a gathering of Arizona artists hosted by Karla and Jim Elling in Paradise Valley, Arizona. Before our talk Karla asked each artist to introduce themselves and describe their practice and in this way we all learned a bit from each other! 

We are working on a book with seven unpublished watercolors by Maynard Dixon that he made to illustrate Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass. One of the reasons for this trip was to learn more about Dixon and his southwest. In Tucson we met with Mark Sublette at his Medicine Man Gallery where we found a wealth of information to help us with this project

Maynard Dixon

The next stops were in Texas where we visited the library at the University of Texas, El Paso and the University of Texas, Austin, as well as teaching a class for the Austin Book Arts Center and gave an evening Book Arts Folk Song concert for the Green Man Cafe. We enjoyed a super bloom of flowers along the road between Tuscon to Austin. So many flowers. And then again as we left Austin passing Burnet where they were holding the Bluebonnet festival we saw endless miles of roadside flowers.

Texas sunset

Paintbrush, evening primrose, bluebonnet, and Indian blanket, and more!

Peter strolling into the library at University of Texas, El Paso.
There is a surprising connection between Bhutan and UTEP!

Barrel Cacti at the roadside campsite in Texas

At the University of Texas in Austin's Special Collections in the Fine Arts Library, as Peter talked about each book, the librarian, Tina Tran, told him she was impressed by his professionalism. I guess experience pays off: we've visited lots of libraries over the last 15 years as the Wandering Book Artists!

Peter taught a 2-day workshop at the Austin Book Arts Center. They explored letterpress printing techniques and simple folded paper pamphlets while jointly creating a finished book project.

On Friday evening at the Green Man Cafe we again showed our books (and Donna's road trip knitted book artists' mitts and hats) and we closed out the evening with a book arts folk song concert.

Serindiptiy: Peter meets letterpress printer Bradley Hutchinson. They both began printing the same year, 1975 Bradley at the U of Alabama and Peter at UCSC, with paralleling careers. They had corresponded but never met. One of the treats of being on the road.

And now we begin our trip back west - to California, via Santa Fe, the Grand Canyon, and Mt Carmel with Maynard Dixon's home. That story will be told in a blog post after we are home!


Monday, February 19, 2024

Spring Wandering in the Southwest...on the road again....

How many of you are going to head out of town for the eclipse? Out of state too? We are...wandering again! We'll be combining a Wandering Book Artists' road trip with a stop in Texas to experience the eclipse. Here is a list of talks and workshops Peter will give on the trip. We hope you will consider signing up for one. 

Claremont College: Monday March 25: Scripps College book arts class: 10:30 - 12:30.

Occidental College, Tuesday March 26: Letterpress Class: 1:30 - 4.

Tucson: April 1: Pop up event at Cave Paper, 846 N Stone Ave. 10 - noon.

Austin: April 11 and 12: Austin Book Arts Center Workshop: Get Creative with Wood and Metal Type, 10 - 4.

Santa Fe: April 17. Info about workshop coming soon!

When we travel, we find time to play tunes with new friends. People wander in and out of the caravan.

Peter made a new miniature book, Route 66, because, well, Donna is 6?...

Another new book, "Choice", because we know that every choice we make has a consequence. Some thoughts on the phrase, "To be or not to be!" 

Donna made a one of a kind book entitled, "Transformation: Art in the Forest" this winter for Big Basin State Park's celebration for re-opening the park after the 2020 CZU Complex fire burned over 97% of the park. 15 other artists in the program called Big Basin Art About will be showing their work on June 15, 2024 in the Redwood Grove in the park in Santa Cruz County, California.

Donna has been knitting. You will have a chance to purchase pretty hand-knitted fingerless gloves if you come and visit us in the caravan this spring!

We attended Codex Book fair in Oakland this winter. Peter had to say goodbye to his ukulele that has traveled the world over with us. Don't worry, he'll make a new one in time to sing some book arts folk songs when we see you next!

Monday, May 2, 2022

Pulp to Print: Conceive, Collaborate, Construct - a class at Focus on Book Arts 2022

I will be co-teaching a 3-day book arts workshop with Susan Lowdermilk at the Focus on the Book Arts Conference in Forest Grove, Oregon, Friday-Sunday, July 15-17, 2022. We still have room in the class and hope you will join us!

Susan and I just completed a 9 month collaborative book arts project titled HOPE? In this class we are going to share what we learned about collaboration and let you practice the skills needed, in a fun and exciting way, to make a book.

The class is titled Pulp to Print:  Conceive, Collaborate, Construct. Susan and I will guide the class through the collaborative process of designing and creating an editioned artists’ book. Class participants will design a small book, make handmade paper, use hand set type, carve linoleum blocks, or otherwise employ paints and drawing inks, to create the images and text for our book. Students will then bind the pages created into a “flag book” structure.  At the end of the three days each student will leave with their own copy of the editioned collaborative artists’ book we make in the class.

Sunday, December 12, 2021

Our Books at Yale's Beinecke Library

Last weekend we pulled the wagon out of its shelter to set up at a local art show. Here is moody photo taken early in the morning.

Here is a less moody but more accurate picture of the day's activities:

And finally, we just found a selection of our books were included in an exhibit titled Road Show, Travel Papers in American Literature. They made a video showing our books. Here is the link:

Tuesday, September 21, 2021

Endangered Forests: Book Artists Bear Witness

This blog post is about our most recent project: Endangered Forests: Book Artists Bear Witness is a collaborative art project we are doing with Susan Lowdermilk and Andie Thrams. Through field work and research in recently burned and intact forests in Oregon and California, we are investigating the complex topics of tree mortality, catastrophic wildfire, and climate change. We will be creating a reliquary of artists' books, artworks, and artifacts - titled HOPE? - to bear witness to the devastation we have seen occurring in western forests and to grapple with the question of hope at this pivotal moment in the ongoing history of the planet earth.

The collaboration began over dinner during the 2019 Codex Foundation Bookfair in Richmond, CA. The Codex Foundation had announced an upcoming project titled “Extraction: Art on the Edge of The Abyss”, and had issued a call for artist to create projects to be included. We were eating dinner with Susan Lowdermilk and Andie Thrams, both artists whose work also focused on the natural world, and we decided that trees would be a good focus for a collaboration, imagining a unique approach to a showing of our work would be to backpack into some remote spot in the Sierra Nevada and set up an exhibit in the wilderness.

The project was waylaid by the COVID 19 pandemic, and during the intervening time each of us was affected by the devastating wildfires that burned the western USA. We decided to shift the focus towards creating a collaborative art project in response to those fires. 

We began our collaboration in July of 2021 staying together at UC Merced’s Yosemite Field Station in Wawona, CA, where we viewed the vast areas that burned in the 2020 Creek Fire, adjacent to Yosemite National Park. We found blackened hillsides juxtaposed with green forests. But we found the unburned areas were filled with both downed trees and standing dead trees killed by beetle infestation and the effects of drought, and we saw many living trees showing stress in their thinning and dying foliage.


We spent several days painting, writing, and hiking in Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, and witnessed the devastation caused by a freak wind event in January 2021 that felled thousands of trees in the Wawona area. Fifteen of the grove’s giant sequoias toppled that night. Speaking with park scientists and ranger-naturalists, we learned that the dense vegetation that has been building in Sierra forests since the mid-1800’s, due to fire suppression policies, is now contributing to the megafires in the West and that even giant sequoias, once thought to be almost invincible, are increasingly vulnerable to fire, insect infestation, and prolonged drought. We learned many scientists predict that Earth, now 4.5 billion years old (in what is tentatively being called the Anthropocene Epoch) is at the beginning of its fifth mass extinction event, due to human-induced changes to the planet. We began to understand that what is happening in western forests is a complex problem, connected to human impact, including worldwide climate change and habitat loss.

We asked the scientists and rangers we spoke with how artists could help; what message would they wish we, as artists, would share about the forests’ problems. A clear answer was that while scientists can gather information and relate facts, scientific data alone cannot always inspire deep consideration of facts or change minds already decided. But artists can translate facts, share observations, and bear witness, and they can create art that will lead a viewer past the confusion of facts to new insights, which may open them to take positive actions for change.


As we rounded up our time in Wawona, we realized the scope of our project had expanded - from a study of catastrophic wildfire, to a study of what creates such fires in the first place. The causes are complex, but rooted in the over-extraction of natural resources, and fossil fuel burning, which are causing worldwide climate change. We began to wonder if there is any hope for the Earth’s forests, any hope for humans? And, during such overwhelmingly worrisome times, what will hope mean? Will anything we can do as artists even matter? An answer came: we thought of John Muir: an unprivileged and self-educated individual, who, through his personal passion for nature, inspired the founding of the modern conservation movement. His life shows that just one single person’s efforts can actually make a difference. 

    The day we were leaving Wawona, we encountered a man riding an electric bike near the Mariposa Grove, and spoke about our project. He acknowledged that his decision to ride a bike instead of driving would do little very little to reduce the impacts of climate change, but if every “one” decided to ride an electric bike instead of driving a car it really would matter and make a difference. We asked him what direction he would want our project to take. He replied, “Create a road to recovery, a path to redemption.” 


We relocated to Santa Cruz to make the first collaborative art works of the project using our bookbinding, papermaking and printing studios. Reviewing all the conversations we had while together in Wawona, we decided to create a reliquary of artists' books, artworks, and artifacts with the intention to bear witness to the devastation occurring in western forests at this pivotal moment in time, and to grapple with the question of hope: what is hope, is there hope for the future, and if so, what can it be.

    As we worked together, we found our collaborative art process echoed the cooperative networks of the “Wood Wide Web” (a term created to describe the complex connections that exist between all organisms within forest ecosystems), combining the unique skills of each individual to produce artworks we all had a hand in envisioning and creating. We worked simultaneously on three book projects, printing woodcuts, pressure prints, wood and metal hand set type on the press, collaboratively making decisions, all four artists having their hands on each of the pieces.

The three books we made speak to the natural world tragedies we had witnessed and were learning about. They will end up being part of a reliquary we will create to hold all the works we will make together. We decided to title that reliquary “Hope?” The final product will be available for sale, and will be displayed as part of the worldwide project, Extraction: Art on the Edge of The Abyss, which investigates climate change and human over-consumption of natural resources.

    Next, we are going to meet in early October at Oregon State University’s H.J. Andrews Experimental Forest, to be part of their program that pairs artists with scientists. While there we will explore the nearby 2020 Holiday Farm Fire burn and continue to create art work in response to what we witness and learn.

Note: This is paper made while we were together in Santa Cruz. The white cotton rag pulp was pigmented using charcoal from burned Sequoia trees. The finer particles gave the paper a grey cast, and the coarser particles created small black specks, spread evenly over the sheet. We will use this paper for a collaborative art work when we are in Oregon.