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On the Road

But their artistic endeavors are not just long hours spent alone in their Santa Cruz, California, studio—the Thomases are very active in the book art world. They have been members of the Friends of Dard Hunter, a national organization of hand-papermakers, for more than twenty years. They’ve been active in the Miniature Book Society and the Guild of Book Workers. Indeed, it’s those bookish connections that prompted the gypsy wagon tour. “Over the years, we have met most of the actively practicing book artists in the country. When we started planning this trip, we looked where there were centers of book arts and then figured out who we knew that lived there who would host us or that we could collaborate with on a broadside, then gave them a shout,” said Peter.

The Thomases created this broadside, “Clouds Above the Desert” in collaboration with the Tryst Press in Provo, Utah. Appropriately, the quotes are from Kerouac’s On the Road. Photo courtesy Peter and Donna Thomas
Peter and Donna Thomas created this miniature accordion-style book to document their travels in the Southwest. Photo courtesy Tom Bentley
A selection of the Thomases’ fine miniature books.Photo courtesy Tom Bentley

One of the efforts of those collaborations is in bright progress: a book composed of a series of broadsides made in the studios, libraries, and book arts centers visited on their expedition. Their guidelines mandated that each print would have imagery or text related to the gypsy wagon or the trip, and that would also reflect something unique about the collaborators, their skills, or the place they lived. So, for one of the prints, “Clouds Above the Desert,” a collaboration with Rob and Georgia Buchert and Paul Alessini of Tryst Press in Provo, Utah, the group collected three different types of rich Utah earth, sieved it down a fine powder, and rubbed on the different earth pigments to create graded colors on a print of sky and cloud imagery, spiced with a quote from Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.

Another print, done in conjunction with Tracy Honn of Silver Buckle Press in Madison, Wisconsin, involved the use of grass plucked from under a locust tree in Madison, where John Muir had a revelation about nature. Using a “pressure print” technique that sandwiched the grass between inked linoleum, paper, and thin plastic, the artists were able to get a rendering of the grass that could be transferred to the broadside. Then, according to Peter, “Donna carved a tiny linoleum cut of our wagon. Dwarfed by the grass, it represents our place in the vastness of nature, which Muir often spoke of, and that we had experienced on the prairie as wandering book artists.”

The broadsides book is a compendium of unique efforts such as those, each printed on a different sort of paper, and using various unique and interesting type faces and printing presses. The design for the book is still undergoing refinement, but it will include an introduction and a description of the process that went into making each broadside, and the broadsides themselves will be held in translucent folders. A clamshell box will hold them all, perhaps with a gypsy wagon print on the front. As Peter said, “This is all still undergoing ‘design review.’ It takes a lot of negotiating for us to make design decisions, so it is not uncommon to make many trial bindings for a new book project.”

But the tour wasn’t just about fun and broadsides. Besides selling their various art books, the Thomases also presented workshops on various aspects of art books to audiences all along the way. Participants created their own books under Peter and Donna’s tutelage, such as those produced at the workshop taught in Cleveland’s Morgan Conservatory, where, Donna said, “Peter taught thirteen people how to make a scrolling book and a nested accordion structure. Even in the humid and hot weather of Cleveland in August, the creative process took control, and many very nice books were produced.”

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