Special Collections and University Archives

-Audrey Sage

We are featuring this unique artist book, which measures 3″ x 3″, by Peter and Donna Thomas, the Wandering Book Artists, from 2011, which has twelve beautiful watercolor illustrations by Donna of travelling caravans. These images are mounted across pages where text from the first stanza of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of the Open Road” are printed, using Goudy 30 type on handmade paper by Peter. It is copy 66 of 150 copies which is laser and letterpress printed on handmade paper. The structure is accordian-folded with a unique modified piano hinge binding that Donna developed specifically for this book. It is made of three wooden dowels and intersecting woven paper and bound to marble paper-covered boards with the title on a panel on the front.

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. They document their trips around the country on their blog, when they bring their artists’ books, teach book arts workshops, and talk about making books as art. They are avid nature enthusiasts who like to seek out and experience the beauty of the many different landscapes found across the USA.

Being a book artist by Peter Thomas

Being a book artist is more than just making books; it’s living and breathing them. It’s about becoming so involved with the subject matter that the physical attributes of the book reveal themselves. It’s about listening to the materials invoke the proper text. It’s about loving those materials and knowing them so well that we feel their desire to be used in the book we are making. We didn’t begin our artistic careers planning to be artists of the book. It was more a case of being called, inspired with the desire to make a Good Book: one that, through the materials, in the text, and by the visual and tactile impact, will move the viewer from the everyday to a new place, a place that stirs the soul.

Song of the Open Road by Walt Whitman

Afoot and light-hearted,

I take to the Open Road,

Healthy, free, the world before me,

The long brown path before me,

leading wherever I choose.

Our delightful copy of the Song of the Open Road resides in a cozy and custom built enclosure.

To read more about the work and travels of Peter and Donna Thomas, please visit their website:

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