Bookmaking workshop emphasizes veteran experience

by Amelia Rosch | 1/25/15 9:38pm

Dark pulpy water in giant plastic containers was transformed into sheets of off-white and grey paper — some left plain and some covered in bold blue, red and black prints — this weekend in the Hopkins Center as part of the Combat Paper Project.

The project, in which participants created hand-made sheets of paper out of old military uniforms, is part of the Hopkins Center’s “World War I Reconsidered” programming commemorating the centennial of the start of World War I and looks at the intersection between art and war.

Combat Paper Project founder Drew Cameron, who served in the United States Army for six years, said that he decided to start the project to allow veterans to remake their uniforms into art pieces that start a conversation.

“To take a uniform worn in service and to turn it into paper seemed appropriate,” Cameron said. “Paper can be used to tell stories. What if that story referenced was somehow connected to the actual material it was printed on, so that’s another layer of concept.”

The Combat Paper Project’s papermaking process begins with the old military uniforms, which are made into a pulp and mixed in with water to create a slurry.

The slurry is collected in a tool called a mould and deckle, and the water drains out, creating a thick sheet of wet paper . The paper is then transferred between pieces of felt, where it is left to dry and shrink.

“It’s a very wet process,” Cameron said.

Cameron said that a key part of making paper is making sure that the slurry that will become paper remains even, whether it is in the mould and deckle or during the transferring process.

Once the paper is transferred and starts drying, the printing process can begin. Cameron said that the ink he uses is made from a highly beaten cotton pulp that is sprayed through a bottle and onto a silkscreen stencil onto the page. He said that the ink is able to stay on the page due to the hydrogen bonds that form between the fibers in the ink and in the paper.

“When you use pulp to print onto wet pulp, when it dries, the bond happens, so the printed image and the paper become one,” he said. “It’s like the print is coming from out of the sheet of paper.”

The stencils that Cameron uses for the Combat Paper Product range from an etching of a World War I battle scene to the illustration from a matchbook that was made in Haverhill, New Hampshire, but all are connected to either the military or to the art of printmaking.

He said that there is a lot of freedom in printmaking with silkscreen, due to the artists’ ability to mix colors and layer images upon each other, as demonstrated in some of his latest pieces.

Cameron said that while he mostly works in San Francisco, his branch of the Combat Paper Project tours the country several times a year. On this current tour, the Combat Paper Project will also hold workshops in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Iowa City, Iowa and Houston, Texas.

“There are a lot of communities that have been directly affected by the military experience, so there’s always people who are interested in doing the workshops.”

Cameron said that there are very few technical challenges with the workshops and that the actual papermaking process is easy to teach.

He said that the biggest challenge of the Combat Paper Project is finding funding for it, since all of its workshops are free.

“They are open, and the equipment is hard to come by,” he said. “So how do we keep it alive that way? That’s the biggest challenge I can think of — how do we keep doing it?”

He said that most of the Combat Paper Project’s funding comes from pieces he is commissioned to create.

Hopkins Center outreach and arts education coordinator Erin Smith said that the fact that Cameron’s workshops are free and open to the public is different, because most outreach workshops held by the Hopkins Center charge a small fee.

Chad Rairie ’16, who served in the United States Marine Corps between 2008 and 2012 , said that he decided to use his old uniforms.

“They did not fit anymore,” he said. “I decided that something interesting that I could do with the uniforms that I turned into paper is to be able to write letters.”

Rairie said that he wanted to make something special for the Marines with whom he served who are getting married and starting families and decided to make them cards out of the paper he made instead of traditional wedding gifts.

“It’s personalized from things I’ve done,” Rairie said. “It’ll be a fun project to continue for the rest of the year.”

Rairie said that he is planning on continuing to work with Cameron on future projects.

The Combat Paper Project began in November 2007 by Cameron and Drew Matott, a papermaking and book artist, with a workshop at St. Lawrence University.

The Combat Paper Project is based in San Francisco with affiliates in New York, New Jersey and Nevada. They have held workshops in Northern Ireland, Canada and Kosovo.

In addition to this weekend’s workshops, Cameron will give a talk on the relationship between art and war tonight at 5:30 p.m. in Wilson Hall, Room 219.

Prints by Cameron will be included in the Kronos Quartet’s piece “Beyond Zero: 1914-1918,” Smith said.

“Beyond Zero: 1914-1918” will play Feb. 10 at 7 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium. ​