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Phuong Vo, Louisiana State University, May 2009
Peter Thomas, a book artist, attended the University of California at Santa Cruz, where he explored and studied book arts with William Everson at UCSC’s Lime Kiln Press. He currently shares a business with his wife Donna, in Santa Cruz, California. Since 1976, they have worked together to produce books, where they handmade their own paper, printed it on the letterpress, and hand bound the books completely by themselves. This helped emphasized their primary goal in producing books that were created with the finest materials and quality. Peter and Donna produce “fine press” books in various sizes, particularly the miniature format.
When asked why does Peter specialize in the miniature format, he shares, “People love small things. When you hold a miniature book in your hand, it is like holding a jewel. Although some need magnification to be read, most can be enjoyed with the naked eye. They are indeed like jewelry, with words and images instead of gemstones and wonderful structures instead of precious metals. Cradling a miniature book in your hands is a delight compared to lugging a ten-pound textbook around.”
Furthermore, he explains how much easier they are to produce, compared to larger books. For example, the miniature format does not required much material, and are much lighter in paper weight, making them much easier to work with. Even the gluing process takes less time, since there is less area to cover. In addition, the drying process do not warp, therefore a press is not required. The only two difficult things about creating miniature books are the required attention to small measurements and the ability to work with the materials in small format. In contrast with the difficulties, the same techniques that are applied to constructing larger books are simply applied to creating the miniature ones. With several years of experience, Peter has discovered several tricks and techniques of making these miniature books, where he now shares them in his class and workshops.
Another one of Peter proud accomplishments is his Ukulele book series. Peter shared how his grandfather has given a ukulele to his father. He mentions how his father could play any song with the instrument, where Peter himself grew up, listening and singing to all the old songs. He later then began playing the ukulele with his dad at family gatherings. This growing passion gave him the inspiration one day to create books from them.
Peter expresses, “One day I thought to myself, ‘I love to make books and I love to play the ukulele. Can I put these two loves together? Can I make a book out of a uke?’ After Donna and I made the first one, I thought, ‘How many more can we make? Each one will have to represent a different book structure, format or concept and each will still have to play…”
Peter would look for old and broken ukuleles, and repair them himself. Interestingly, his Ukulele book series incorporate every book structure and format. They measure approximately 18 by 6 by 3 inches. Until this day, with the help of Donna, Peter has created twenty-three series of the ukulele books, featuring the historical content itself.
Peter continues working collaboratively Donna to create a number of miniature and full size books editions each year. Their work has been displayed in individual and group exhibitions in America and worldwide.
Peter and Donna Thomas are quite unique in their bookmaking practice. Since 1976 they have been working collaboratively in the field. They began together at a Renaissance Pleasure Faire making paper and teaching guests various bookbinding techniques. Today, their books can be found in collections around the world. The couple is still hard at work making books (as a team and separately), teaching workshops, and studying the fine art of bookmaking.
In 1976, after working together for two years as teachers of bookbinding at the Faire, the Thomas’s decided to establish their own private press. This press used only the finest of materials including paper handmade by them. They produced limited editions, miniature, and full size books all by themselves. In the 1980’s, the two began experimenting with new formats. Not only did they try some new structures, but also tried making books out of nontraditional materials. Today the couple is famous for their books made from instruments, primarily ukuleles. They have also made a book from an accordion and one from a concertina (so clever!).
In 1992 the Thomas’s published “Good Books”, a bibliography of their work. This bibliography lists over 50 titles on various subjects. The two became more and more active in the field of bookmaking as they became involved with both national and international bookmaking/papermaking organizations. They also began to research the history of papermaking. Mr. Thomas has written a history of papermaking in the Philippines and he is currently studying the relationship of paper and fire. Donna is currently working on a collection of miniature one-of-a-kind books with calligraphy and watercolor. The two have received a number of awards including the Distinguished Book Award from the Miniature Book Society in both 1998 and 1999 and the Norman Forgue Award.
For the most part I quite enjoyed the Thomas’s books. Their non-limited edition collections of miniature books entitled “Happy Birthday”, “I Love You”, “Good Luck”, and “Drop Dead” are quite clever. The books are very unique in concept and relatively cheap at $25 a piece. Any book lover would be happy to unwrap one of these as a gift. I also enjoy the books made from musical instruments. Most of these instruments open up like traditional books to reveal actual paper pages. It would be pretty funny to see someone in a library flipping through a ukulele! There is also a great deal of hand detailing in most of the couple’s book which I can certainly respect coming from a studio art background. Some of the subject matter I found rather boring, however, but that is a matter of personal taste. This subject matter includes Shakespeare, nature, and other very specific topics. The illustrations and forms of these books do lend to the subject matter which makes them more interesting than a textbook on the same subject matter. Overall, I have a great deal of respect for the artists and believe they are a great pair to research for information about the more fine art side of bookmaking.
"About the artists." Peter and Donna Thomas. 2002. 21 Jan. 2009
*This citation is for both the information in the report and PowerPoint presentation including all of the photographs
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