ďThe story of the fiber, the blood, sweat and tears, the months of hardship and brutal violence are held within those old uniforms.... Reshaping that association of subordination, of warfare and service, into something collective and beautiful is our inspiration.Ē -Drew Cameron
Arts & Healing Network is delighted to present one of the 2012 AHN Awards to Drew Cameron, artist and co-founder/director of the Combat Paper Project. We at the Arts & Healing Network are so impressed by Drewís sense of innovation and service in initiating this project to help war veterans heal through creativity.
Through art making workshops, the Combat Paper Project assists veterans in reconciling and sharing their personal experiences as well as broadening the traditional narrative surrounding service and military culture. Veterans use their uniforms worn in combat to create cathartic works of art. The uniforms are cut up, beaten into a pulp and formed into sheets of paper. Veterans use the transformative process of papermaking to reclaim their uniform as art and begin to embrace their experiences in the military.
To learn more about Drew Cameron and the Combat Paper Project, please visit www.combatpaper.org. We also highly recommend viewing this PBS Newshour video online by clicking here.
Below is an interview by Arts & Healing Network Director Mary Daniel Hobson with Drew Cameron from June 2012:
Mary Daniel Hobson: Please share a little about the Combat Paper Project. What inspired you to start this wonderful project? And how has it grown and changed over time?
Drew Cameron: The foundations of this project are collaborative. It began as an idea for a street intervention with my friend Drew Matott, which we evolved into a workshop program in that very murky intersection between the arts and the military. I had been making paper for several years with Matott after returning from Iraq and began to connect with other veterans who were using creative outlets, such as writing, activism and spoken word. It seemed to be an intuitive step, using uniforms as the source fiber to transform into paper. Hand papermaking is a very rich tradition that we all admire, and continuing to explore the medium has always been a pursuit of mine.
Combat Paper began very informally at first in 2007, hosting workshops and long weekend visits at our studio in Burlington, Vermont. The essence of it is simple; we facilitate workshops where people can pulp uniforms and make them into handmade paper. It continued to grow and adapt based on those participating and the ideas of the various communities we were working in. Once we began to present the project and outreach for support, hand papermakers, schools, arts organizations and veteran groups began to heave in their support.
The process has always made sense to us, so, like any good papermaker, we sought to share it with others. Fortunately, itís open for interpretation -- there are a variety of ways one can access and relate to the process. Now, there are several mills around the country, exhibitions, a press to print editions, as well as a continual series of free workshops that encourages others to develop their own practice.
Mary Daniel: What has been the impact of the Combat Paper Project so far?
Drew: I think we are fortunate in that there are many ways to find oneís own relationship with papermaking, and Combat Paper is our particular slant on it. The individual experience is a difficult thing to decipher, but an indicator of the allure that papermaking has can be seen through the strong network of papermakers who are continuing to explore and share the medium and have been for a long time. Within Combat Paper, there are teams around the country who are developing their own practice and shaping it for the areas in which they live. That is an inspiring development, and reaffirms my efforts to help it grow.
Mary Daniel: The process of papermaking is such a rich metaphor for transformation Ė literally breaking down one substance to create a new one. What do you appreciate most about it as a medium?
Drew: Papermaking is accessible, deliberate and endless. There are two thousand years of history and practice to discover. Paper is woven into the human experience -- itís nearly ubiquitous in our daily rituals. It is a process and an object, a gesture and a sheet, a craft and an art, a uniform and a story. Papermaking is cross-cultural and interdisciplinary; itís an honor to be a part of that tradition.
Mary Daniel: I was struck in watching the PBS Newshour video, how in addition to the art making in the Combat Paper Project workshops, there is also a sense of community being created by veterans coming together and having a space to reflect and talk about their experiences with others who could relate. Could you share a little about how that quality of connection and communication is fostered in your workshops?
Drew: There is something special about the process of papermaking that acts as a natural conduit into the non-verbal parts of our memory and emotions. Communalizing the military experience with other veterans and the communities in which we are returning is a powerful step in reintegration. The workshops are usually open and meant to be a place for that dialogue to unfold, to connect with others. There is also a direct connection with our material, the uniforms and military objects, which are interpreted through the art form. The intergenerational conflicts that have been experienced in this country have shown us better methods of sharing the sacrifice. I would like to see that continue to evolve.
Mary Daniel: Do you believe art making can be a catalyst for healing and positive change and if so, how?
Drew: Absolutely. Art making can speak outside of the bounds of spoken language; it can connect our realities and shape new ones. I have found it to be a very direct way of conceiving a sense of purpose and defining new intentions.
Mary Daniel: What advice do you have for other artists who would like to use their creativity for healing and transformation?
Drew: It may seem simple butÖalways collaborate and be sure to give it away.
Mary Daniel: And what advice would you have for artists seeking funding for an art and healing project?
Drew: The way we approached developing Combat Paper was to first practice and engage the process without a real concern for funding sources. There have been so many people who have and continue to volunteer their talents towards this project, it would not have been realized any other way. We were quite wary at first of how it would be perceived so we wanted the artwork and growing base of participants to be the voice. Developing an approach for funding came through the ideas of the group. It was project based in that we would realize short-term goals, such as an edition or traveling tour and scrape together whatever we could to make it happen, then reinvest into the next project. If the funding didnít come through then we would change our course. Practicing the process, doing the work is the most important thing that I can stress. Through the work, a community may develop. A community that leverages ownership and a process they can teach others can really build momentum. I have found that if you believe in the process, and carry it always, the outcome will present itself.
Mary Daniel: What excites you most about your work right now?
Drew: Iím really looking forward to working with newly connected collaborators and continuing to develop paper mills and ongoing programming. I know that hand papermaking will always have a place in society, even when wars arenít being waged, and itís nice to imagine that.
Mary Daniel: How do people find out more if they want to get involved?
Drew: The workshops are always free and open to veterans and civilians alike, so there is somewhat of a self-selection of those willing to participate. Ongoing programs assist people in the technical aspects of the process and can help to realize their own interests in perpetuating it. There are derivatives of Combat Paper, just as we are derivatives of other projects, so finding, altering and shaping new methods is certainly wide open. There is also a strong network of papermakers accessible through the Friends of Dard Hunter who host events, workshops, conferences and curriculum all around the country. Our website acts as an archive for Combat Paper and also an up to date calendar of workshops and exhibitions -- the goal is to be easy to get a hold of. Mary Daniel: Is there anything else you would like to share?
Drew: Practice, teach and encourage others to do the same.
< Return to AHN Award intro page