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On the Road

The Wandering Book Artists are well known for their accordion books, in which they alter an instrument in order and recreate it into a book about accordion players and music. Photo courtesy Peter and Donna Thomas
Peter Thomas is passionate about the ukulele – playing it, teaching it, and making books out of them, such as the one seen here. Photo courtesy Peter and Donna Thomas

Catherine Nash, a papermaking and encaustic artist from Tucson, Arizona, attended a workshop that Peter and Donna held at her studio. Here’s her take: “Peter taught a workshop in Rob’s and my studio entitled ‘Scrolling Books from tiny to LARGE!’ demonstrating a contemporary binding that he and Donna developed from historical examples.” She further described it as “Great fun! We got to select bits of maps from an old atlas to cover the first miniature binding. Everyone seemed to find countries and places that held a personal meaning and evoked creative ideas for content. Since the participants were experienced bookbinders, free rein was given for the second book … and some wonderfully exciting results ensued.”

The Wandering Book Artists also held a “Making Miniature Books” workshop at various stops on the tour; they have a fascinating collection of handmade miniature books of ingenious design and varied materials for sale. In the instance of the scrolling book, it’s a case-bound book that features a wooden framework holding a scroll, housed in a paper-covered case binding. But the two don’t stop at making books that resemble accordions. They make books out of accordions. One of those is their History of the Accordion book, which uses an actual accordion as the housing of a series of images about accordion players and handwritten text on the players and the accordion. The Thomases have made an entire series of books out of ukuleles, something that reflects Peter’s passion for the instrument; not only is he president of the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz, but he’s also an instructor for beginning ukulele. Yet another class available on the gypsy wagon.

“There really is a vast flood of interest in making books among artists and non-artists alike”

Last year’s tour brought them to many stops and sights around the country. “Life is short and the road is long. The country is a huge place, and there is beauty everywhere. Things repeat themselves over and over. Towns and suburbs, box stores, old downtowns, communities with ball teams and civic-arts organizations. There are many little communities of book artists all full of excitement for making books, forming centers, or just gathering informally. There really is a vast flood of interest in making books among artists and non-artists alike,” said Peter.

The two are hoping to slow the pace a bit for this year’s tour, planning stops in state and national parks in the plains and Rocky Mountains, as well as offering longer teaching stints in the same place, such as their initial two-week appointment at the John C. Campbell Folk School in the mountains of North Carolina. But this tour will again focus on the production of those things that separate an artist’s book from a conventional book, things like its tactile sense, sculpture, architecture, and concept, while also incorporating content.

Peter said he views the gypsy wagon as a metaphor for artist’s books: “When people see a regular RV what do they think? Nothing much. When they see inside? Functional. When they see our gypsy wagon they see beauty and craftsmanship. They begin to think of wandering, freedom, beauty. When they see inside ideas fly, imagination is inspired – they want to run away and join the circus, see the beauty of a moonlight night from a high mountain, listen to the wild music of a river stream.”

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Tom Bentley has run a writing and editing business out of his house for more than ten years. He has published many freelance pieces—ranging from first-person essays to travel pieces to more journalistic subjects—in newspapers, magazines, and online. He is a published fiction writer, and was the 1999 winner of the National Steinbeck Center’s short story contest; he has also won some nonfiction writing awards. He also maintains a writing-related blog.
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