The Wandering Book Artists visit Providence

Gypsy Van parked on North Main Street

Peter and Donna Thomas, book artists from Santa Cruz, CA made Providence one of their stops on a cross-country book tour in their handmade gypsy wagon.  Peter, who’s specialty is handmade paper, and Donna, who’s delicate watercolors grace their handmade miniature books, are also known for their research on handmade papers of other cultures, letterpress printing, leather binding, decorative painting, woodworking, metalwork, carpentry, hiking the Sierra Nevada Mts., and their fondness for ukulele music.  This year they began their travels in March and will finish up in October before heading back to Santa Cruz for the winter.  Along the way they have stopped at many book artists’ studios, book arts centers and collecting institutions to give lectures, workshops, take workshops, make collaborative prints, and show their handmade books to prospective buyers.

Peter and Donna Thomas

On August 18th, they came to visit RISD and Brown librarians, a real challenge for an SUV pulling a rather roomy colorful gypsy van in downtown Providence.  After much searching, they were able to find a place to park their vehicles on North Main Street, beside the small Roger Williams park.  With an open door to visitors, they welcomed any who were curious enough to ask for a peek, or at least ask for more than change for the parking meters.

We spent a delightful two hours in the van, looking at all their miniature books and hearing stories of their travels.  The inside is quite comfortable and has all the amenities (except for a shower) one could need to feel quite civilized, while on the road.  In fact, there are so many wonderful decorative touches both inside and out that the van is really an incredible work of art.

Cozy interior

The miniature books that Peter and Donna make are often filled with sayings and writings of John Muir, the 19th century naturalist who was responsible for making Yosemite a national park and promoting the creation of national parks all across the country.  As avid hikers of the Sierra’s, the Thomas’s pay tribute to those beautiful wild places of nature that they have grown to love.  Adventure is in their blood, and this latest tour of the country is evidence of a dream becoming reality.  It was so difficult to see them drive away.  It was all I could do to keep from running after them and crying, “take me with you!!!”

Looking at artists' books inside the van

Special Collections has several of Peter and Donna Thomas’s books in the artists’ books collection and more will be coming this fall.  If you would like to read more about their adventures, take a look at their blog and follow their travels: lwc 9/10


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