combat paper: from warrior to artist


combatpaperlogoI’m in love with the Combat Paper project. 4Culture’s Site Specific program in partnership with the Renton Municipal Arts Commission, Compass Housing Alliance, Pratt Fine Arts Center and the King County Veterans Program proudly hosts Combat Paper, for their first visit to the Northwest.

Combat Paper is an arts organization that utilizes the traditional hand papermaking techniques to work with populations that have survived trauma due to conflict. Based in Vermont, they travel the United States to conduct workshops for civilians and veterans, which teach the craft of transforming cloth and military uniforms into works of art including, handmade paper, prints and books.

For the past five days, Combat Paper founders Drew Cameron and Drew Matott are working with Veterans and their families at the Compass Veterans Center in Renton. I stopped by to drop-off an old typewriter so they could type on the paper they are making – poetry or prose. I ended up spending most of the day with them. I was totally captivated by the stories the veterans had to share about their past experiences and their current conditions. I was just as captivated by the papermaking process – from liberating the rag to couching. I also saw beautiful artwork made by some of the teens who reside with their veteran parents at the Center.


The artworks that are created are both a personal form of therapeutic, artistic expression as well as a public testament for the participants of the workshop. The workshop experience creates an understanding between the civilian and the veteran, reconciling the experiences in conflict and military service as well as fostering community between misrepresented populations.

As a fairly self-contained unit, Combat Paper has taken to the streets to demonstrate papermaking, using uniforms or other clothing items of significance. Using their portable papermaking equipment, these street-happenings provide a place for the general public and veterans to have conversations about conflict and war, while learning the basic elements of papermaking.

Combat Paper will be working at the Compass Veterans Center in Renton through May 4th. Then, they head to Seattle, in front of 4Culture’s offices (3rd Ave S and Yesler Way), for a free, public demonstration during First Thursday’s Art Walk this Thursday, May 5th 4pm – 8pm. They will also conduct a free demonstration at Piazza Renton’s Spring Festival from Noon – 5pm this Saturday, May 7th. Additionally, Seattle’s own Pratt Fine Arts Center is offering a three-day workshop with Combat Papermakers on May 21, 22, 23 2011, and they are generously hosting a free lecture by the founders of Combat Paper on May 20, 2011 at 6:30pm at Pratt Fine Arts Center.

Given the the headlines lately, conversations about veteran support and military service are particularly relevant. I was surprised to learn that there are more than 670,000 veterans currently live in Washington State, ranking it fifth in the nation according to the U.S. Census. Additionally, the American Community Survey estimates 163,000 veterans, active military and national guards or reserves live in King County, with about half of those veterans residing in South King County and one quarter in Seattle.


The Combat Paper project, rooted in the traditions of hand papermaking, teach participants basic sheet formation using a mould and deckle that can then be used as the basis for creating journals, drawings, stories or poetry. They also expose participants to pulp printing using silk screen images, pulp painting, and basic binding techniques. Not all workshop participants are veterans or visual artists. Some are poets, some are writers, and some come simply for the shared experience.

While I was cutting up a uniform, I chatted with a wise veteran named Larry, who somehow got me talking and soon I had tears running down my face. How could a hippie kid like me be pouring my heart out to a veteran? You’ll have to see Combat Paper in action to find out.


Images: © 2011, Heather Dwyer, Combat Paper at the Compass Veterans Center, Renton, Washington; © 2011, Heather Dwyer, James working at the Compass Veterans Center, Renton, Washington; © Drew Cameron & Drew Matott, Breaking Rank, Print on paper made from military uniforms