Some came dressed in their military uniforms. Others wore plain clothes. Some of them were quiet, focused on their craft. Others laughed and talked, like they once did on those long, quiet nights - when the voices of others was simply the best remedy to the angst of war. Scissors and rotary cutters in tow, they each dismantled the fabric that helped decorate them as American soldiers. Transforming their military uniforms into cathartic portraits, veterans from all over Kentucky got a chance this week to heal their invisible battle wounds that still remained.
The Combat Paper Project, a project that uses art in the form of papermaking to “assist veterans in reconciling and sharing their personal experiences,” made a stop in Kentucky – thanks to a partnership between Arts in Healing, the University of Louisville, and the Louisville VA Medical Center. This particular visit marked the project’s first partnership with a VA hospital and its first stop to Kentucky - the only state the project had yet to visit.
Developed by Drew Cameron, an Iraqi veteran, and papermaker Drew Matott, the Combat Paper Project has helped veterans “reclaim their uniform as art to begin to embrace their experiences in the military.” The uniforms are transformed into art through a special papermaking process, which begins by ripping and cutting the fabric into shreds. The uniform’s scraps are then placed into a Hollander beater for several hours, which beats the fabric into pulp, leaving behind only the fibers. The fibers are then pressed into sheets, which become the foundation for the veterans’ art. After selecting a stencil and spraying the sheet with pigmented pulp, each veteran makes their own special mark on their former military uniforms, creating a lasting legacy.
Held at the University of Louisville’s Schneider Hall, the Combat Paper Project provided free, rolling workshops for veterans to attend, beginning Monday and culminating on Friday with a special lecture and workshop at the Robley Rex VA Medical Center. Led by Kristen Hughes, manager of Arts in Healing, and Drew Cameron, director of the Combat Paper Project, the workshops served as a unique learning experience for veterans - and even for myself.
As they tore, pressed, and cut, the inspiring veterans shared memories, laughter, and even their uniforms. Through the project, each veteran received an opportunity to find peace of mind through the destruction and restoration of his or her uniform. The Combat Paper Project couldn’t heal all wounds, but it allowed veterans the chance to combat something other than their harsh realities and troubled memories of war. This time, veterans combated paper, and as a result, art met war, and poetically, war met peace.
For more information on the Combat Paper Project, please visit www.combatpaper.org.
Photo: Kristen Hamilton