An illustrated, circular miniature book of an excerpt from John Steinbeck's Cannery Row, drawn and arranged by Peter and Donna Thomas, Santa Cruz: 2003.
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John M. Olin Library, Level 1, Kagan Grand Stair

Peter and Donna Thomas

Self-proclaimed “wandering book artists” Peter and Donna Thomas made their first book in 1978, and they have been traveling throughout the country in their “gypsy wagon” to share their passion for this art ever since.

In honor of Peter and Donna Thomas’ forty years of bookmaking and their presentation at the Mercantile Library, the Julian Edison Department of Special Collections hosted a special exhibit of some of their works, displayed in the gallery space beside the entrance to Special Collections. The exhibit showed samples of their extraordinary work in paper-making, bookbinding, and miniatures, as well as photographs from one of their visits to Olin Library.

Attention to Material

One of the things that make the Thomases’ work so compelling is their incredible attention to the materiality of the books. The detailed work that goes into creating the right binding, paper, and illustrations for each text is truly astounding. In The Alder: A Poem, you can see a perfect example of the lengths Peter and Donna will go to marry the form of the book with the content of the text. In the poem, William Everson discusses cutting down an alder tree in Kingfisher Flat, so, for the binding, the Thomases got alder wood from this exact region.

Peter and Donna Thomas are so invested in the look and feel of their books that they make their own paper. Although Peter started as a bookbinder, he stumbled upon some books on papermaking in the library one day and has been crafting his own paper ever since. Peter sets out to make paper using the same techniques that have been used since the sixteenth century while trying out new fibers and materials.


The Paper from Plants exhibition was created as a companion piece to an earlier collection, A Collection of Paper Samples from Hand Papermills in the United States of America (1993). For this book, the Thomases worked with 27 papermakers and paper mills to compile samples of papers being made in America, along with artist statements about each paper. These samples represent the finest work of these mills and were handbound by Peter and Donna.

The Thomases are known for their miniatures. They often give talks on the history and impact of miniature books on the artists’ book movement with demonstrations on how to tailor book bindings to the miniature size.