By Bridget Sjoberg | Staff Writer
Peter and Donna Thomas aren’t your typical artists — they’ve been book artists for over forty years, designing and hand-crafting unique books that allow for a sensory experience.
The Thomas’ spoke about their career in creating artists’ books at Jones Library on Wednesday as part of their Wandering Book Artists tour, where they travel the country in a gypsy wagon to share about books as both a literary and artistic medium.
“We travel around visiting libraries to talk about our books — our goal is to help people think about books as works of art,” Peter Thomas said. “Artists’ books is a very exciting medium, and another way of looking at books by not just reading the text but seeing what’s going on visually.”
Peter and Donna Thomas create books that allow for interaction and had some of their books on display for attendees to engage in after the talk. Some books doubled as instruments like an accordion and ukulele, others included a scrolling feature and transparent ink, and some even acted as metaphors for elements of nature or other topics.
“Within the 40 years of our career, the book has gone from being perceived only as a way of getting information to something that is a work of art in itself,” Peter Thomas said. “Artists’ books have an element of complexity and time to them.”
Peter and Donna Thomas also discussed their involvement in paper making and book binding, as well as their experience making miniature books.
“We worked with miniature books for around twenty years and we made over 100 editions,” Peter Thomas said. “For us that was wonderful, as we got to explore a number of typographic and structural ideas we never could have possibly started to work with.”
Peter and Donna Thomas concluded their talk by explaining that artists’ books should be treated as both a piece of artwork and a puzzle, as well as by playing folk songs with a ukulele containing book-related lyrics. They also provided lyric sheets for attendees to sing along.
Sha Towers acts as curator for Baylor’s Book Arts collection, which began in 2007. He appreciates how artists’ books like the Thomas’ allow for an interactive experience during a time when many books are shifting to a digital model.
“it’s interesting thinking about the place of books in the digital age — most books function well in a digital environment, whether that be a Kindle, your phone or on the web,” Towers said. “What I think is amazing about artists’ books is that you can’t digitize them — they’re about materials and having a sensory experience. They demand your time and attention.”
Towers said Baylor art classes occasionally visit the library to interact with artists’ books, yet many students are unfamiliar or have never interacted with this type of medium.
“Art classes can sit in a lecture and look at slides, but it’s nice for those students to come in and engage with hundreds of books from our collection,” Towers said. “Of everything I do as a librarian, showing people artists’ books is one of my favorite things. It’s exciting to watch people see something for the first time. It’s hard now to have a moment where you haven’t experienced something at all, but these books are a real learning experience and allow for conversation.”
Towers said that there will be artists’ books pop-up exhibits on the first floor of Jones Library on November 8th and November 15th for students to interact with the books. All books are located in Baylor’s Special Collection, which can be accessed by appointment. More information is located online or through the Baylor Book Arts Instagram page.