The Combat Paper Project, founded in 2007 by paper and book artist Drew Matott and soldier-turned-artist Drew Cameron, is a nonprofit organization that conducts workshops around the country teaching military veterans how to make paper by hand from their old uniforms. The labor-intensive process - the uniforms are literally beaten to a pulp and turned into a variety of paper art forms - is meant to give veterans a vehicle to tell their personal stories of military service.
As with any artist collaboration, it's difficult to pinpoint where and when it all began. Do you start with the first germ of the concept? With the first meeting of the collaborators? Or do you rely on the circuitous threads of chance and inspiration? Maybe you just settle for the historical record ....
In 2004, Drew Cameron had just returned from a nine-month deployment as a field artillery soldier in Iraq when he took one of Drew Matott's papermaking workshops at the Green Door Studio in Burlington, Vermont.
When Matott left for Chicago in 2006, Cameron took over the management of the Green Door Studio. As he pursued his degree at the University of Vermont, he became involved with Iraq Veterans Against the War and developed the Warrior Writers Workshop with Lovella Calica and Aaron Hughes.
Dcam had studied Japanese Paper with his father in Iowa (who studied under Tim Barrett). When Dcam finished his service in Iraq he was stationed in Burlington, VT, where I had co-produced the Green Door Studio and People's Republic of Paper. Dcam responded to a $10 paper workshop I had done at the Community College of Vermont where I was teaching. Dcam then became a member of the Green Door Studio to use the paper studio - I think he paid $100 a month. We met a few evenings a week, where I taught him everything I had learned about paper while studying printmaking in Buffalo. I think we did that for a full year before I received a fellowship to pursue my MFA in Book and Paper Art at Columbia College of Chicago.|
- Drew Matott
In 2007, Cameron cut his old uniform from his body and made paper from it. He shared the paper with his veteran friends who responded by giving him their old uniforms. He then began hosting informal papermaking workshops at the Green Door Studio. Hannah Pitkin was on hand to document that seminal event with her camera. Her images have since been combined to become one of the Project's iconic pieces, "Breaking Rank".
Dcam and I originally conceived of CPP in 2006. While in Chicago I did a number of street interventions involving papermaking, asking people to make paper and through specific and directed exercises encouraged people to make art that broadcast their personal, social and political viewpoints.
I had devised a street performance where-by I would ask pedestrians to cut pieces of uniforms from Iraq Veterans standing at attention, put them in a peddle-operated beater and make sheets of paper that responded to a series of questions: Who is responsible for the Iraq War? Who is affected? and What does it mean to be victorious? They were to be sent to then Senator Obama. I was unable to garner institutional support or the necessary permits to bring the piece to fruition. So Dcam did the next best thing ... he coupled the street performance concept to making paper with veterans out of their uniforms. He took the initiative and cut his uniform from his body.|
- Drew Matott
The Drews met later in San Francisco where they discussed what cutting up the uniform felt like and decided that they would try to do it again, but in the context of a more formalized workshop.
With that in mind, Matott started applying for grants and institutional support, while Cameron returned to the Green Door Studio, working with veterans from the IVAW group pulping uniforms and making books and paper art. Matott landed a small grant from the Caxton Club (Chicago, IL), institutional support from St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY, drafted a business model for Combat Paper Project and purchased a Reina beater to accommodate the anticipated need. On Armistice Day 2007, Combat Paper Project hosted its first workshop at St. Lawrence University.
Since that initial workshop in the autumn of 2007, we have traveled countless miles across the United States, from Seattle to Key West, from Boston to Los Angeles, offering veteran workshops, exhibits, artist talks and paper arts demonstrations. We've even ventured into Canada and the United Kingdom.
To learn more about the early days of the project and its two founders, you may also be interested in reading "Combat Papermakers Drew Cameron and Drew Matott; An Interview in Two Voices" which appeared in a December 17, 2012 issue of Works & Conversations. The interview by Barbara Gates of Inquiring Mind provides an in-depth look at the Combat Paper Project through the voices of its founders. A nice read.