Currently on view:
The Studios of Key West Invites You to Participate in the Combat Paper Project Free Workshop in Creative Paper-making
Friday 18 December from 10am to 4pm Historic Key West Armory, Southard & White Street
Army field artillery soldier, Drew Cameron returned from serving in Iraq in 2003. Like many veterans, he had to find ways to deal with the experience of war and the lingering anxieties of post-combat life back home. Following his deployment, and 8 months on the ground in Iraq, Cameron began experiencing anger, feelings of withdrawal from society, and depression.
Several years later, he met fellow vet and paper artist Drew Matott in Burlington, Vermont, and found a remedy in a new creative process. He had discovered the beginnings of the Combat Paper Project. “It was a natural progression from being numb, from feeling isolated, from not wanting to talk about the military experiences that I’d had to facing them – to making art about that,” says Cameron.
Their project, based in a small collective studio in Vermont, soon began connecting with dozens of other soldiers and war veterans around the country. They ask each participant to donate their government issue uniforms, crushing and breaking them down in a large steel vat, and then learn the process of papermaking from those reduced materials. Beautiful things and profound statements began to emerge. Air force dress shirts and desert camouflage became new works of art, and part of the Combat Paper Project’s Fibers of Reason exhibition, on view at The Studios of Key West from December 10 to January 10.
“Fibers of Reason is a representative collection of the past two years, from our travels across the United States and United Kingdom working with survivors of conflict,” says Cameron. “The works are created from their military service clothing, rendered into paper using traditional techniques, and then become artist’s books, broadside prints and large format sheets.”
The participants pull sheets of paper from their uniform items and render new images in a technique that Cameron calls pulp printing. Participants incorporate poetry, writings or images and photographs from different experiences from their time as soldiers, filed nurses, pilots, or sailors, and then use a stencil to print these images on the white sheet of paper crafted from their uniforms.
Eight artists and leaders of the Combat Paper Project are in Key West for most of December, following a long tour of the Midwest and American South. While serving as artists in residence at The Studios of Key West, Cameron, Matott and company will also offer a special Combat Paper workshop, free for all veterans and former military personnel, on Friday, December 18 from 10am to 4pm. It will be held at the Historic Key West Armory building, 600 White Street, and places can be reserved by calling 296-0458 or sending email to email@example.com.
Cameron has encountered veterans from almost all of the wars fought by U.S. forces in the last fifty years: “You see a lot of veterans even from the Vietnam era who have gone years and years and years trying to bury those things, and the pain and the hurt and the anger and whatnot…they’re still trying to come back to some sort of sense of purpose.”
He and his colleagues invite veterans from throughout the Florida Keys to spend a day at The Studios of Key West learning the traditional processes and techniques of hand paper-making. Members of the Combat Paper Project will guide participants in activities ranging from cutting rag, pulping fiber, basic sheet formation and pulp printing techniques.
Participation is free, but veterans are asked to bring an item of clothing from their time in service. All other associated materials and tools for the workshop, including the use of their portable papermaking mill, will be provided. Each participant also contributes to the legacy of the project. From each new item of donated clothing, Cameron takes a piece of fabric and mixes it into the lineage pulp. Part of that is then introduced to each new batch of pulp. A little bit of each vet’s uniform is in every new piece of paper made by the Combat Paper Project, and the original strain grows with each new collaboration.
“Of all the things we’ve done, and all the creative projects we’ve hosted, this has to be among the most unique and moving,” says Eric Holowacz, director of The Studios of Key West. “When I first heard about Combat Paper, I knew we had to invite the artists to connect with our island, and share their work with the Southernmost Point. When I first saw the art that had been created by returned service people, I knew that we had to find a way to show the Combat Paper exhibition to our community.”
Cameron hopes the Combat Paper Project can continue to provide an outlet for vets looking to separate themselves from their battlefield experiences, and find some sense of peace.
“I’m comfortable with identifying as a veteran but it’s not what identifies me. It’s a part of my history, of my character, of who I am. I can’t even imagine what my life would be like had I not been able to begin the long, hard process of coming home,” said Cameron.
The Studios of Key West invites local veterans and military personnel to participate in the upcoming Combat Paper Project workshop, to be held at the Historic Armory on Friday, December 18 from 10am to 4pm. A number of places will also be reserved for interested local artists and Friends and Patrons of The Studios.
To learn more about this project, or to reserve a place, contact 296-0458 or firstname.lastname@example.org. -30-