Upper Valley Veterans And Others Learn To Turn Uniforms Into Paper
A University of Vermont graduate who served in Iraq came to the Upper Valley this week on a peacetime mission: to show veterans and others how to make paper from their uniforms.
Drew Cameron gives these workshops as part of the Combat Paper Project, which he helped launch. He gave one paper-making class at Dartmouth's Hopkins Center for the Arts, and another at the VA Hospital in White River Junction.
Cameron beat his own army uniforms into a pulp soon after he finished serving six years in the U.S. Army, including a stint in Iraq. As a paper maker, he wanted to turn them into art.
"After the fact, there's a whole life to live, you know, and that's when things can get tough. So to be able to take that uniform and give yourself agency in it, it's totally empowering to bind it into a book and then to write your story," he said as he set up the first workshop. On a long table, he displayed slender books of poetry and essays crafted by soldiers on grayish, nubbly sheets of combat paper.
"After the fact, there's a whole life to live, you know, and that's when things can get tough. So to be able to take that uniform and give yourself agency in it, it's totally empowering to bind it into a book and then to write your story." - Drew Cameron, veteran
Cameron wants these workshops to spur national dialog about war and peace, so civilians are as welcome as veterans. Not everyone has a uniform to bring, so he passes out donated duds of varying colors and patterns.
"We have the BDU, the battle dress uniform, the woodland camouflage, as this is called. This is the splotchy camouflage that many of the branches wore all the way up to the early 2000's when everything went digital, right? Digital camouflage for a digital war," he said, as workshop participants took their seats around a table.
Next he led them to a nearby room to demonstrate a portable, noisy machine that turns fabric scraps into paper pulp.
After the demo, the cutting started. Becky Horvatch started scissoring into camouflage fabric she chose from the pile. Her dad served in Korea and still has his uniform.
"I think he'd be intrigued, because he's a craftsman also," Horvatch said.
A few days later, Cameron took the workshop to a corridor leading into the cafeteria at the VA Hospital in White River Junction.
Kevin Willey wandered by on his way to lunch. He served in the Army from 1977-1980. Cameron handed him a can of black spray paint to aim at a stencil on a piece of freshly made off-white paper.
"Just spray it like you are cleaning a window," he told a slightly bewildered Willey.
Willey sprayed and lifted off the stencil.
"I made an American flag on a piece of paper made out of an Air Force uniform. I always thought paper came from trees," he said, laughing.
Back at Dartmouth, thirty-year-old Chad Rairie, a junior, is already making plans for the paper he made from his old uniforms this week.
Rairie served in the Marine Corps in Afghanistan, where some of his fellow soldiers died. He says it was shocking at first to rip up something he wore into battle. But he is going to use the paper to write letters to his far-flung Marine buddies.
"And being able to pass that on to other people and use that material in a completely new and different way was something that kind of helped get over that fact that I was destroying something that I had cherished for a while," Rairie said.
Other scraps of combat paper made in this week's workshops will be inserted into the programs for a performance at the Hopkins Center later this month -a sound and film narrative of World War I.