Combat Paper Project brings transformative power of papermaking to University of Maryland

​By Emily Schweich, a sophomore Broadcast Journalism major

Combat Paper Project

Photo courtesy of the Combat Paper Project

From April 29 to May 1, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center will team with Veteran Student Life at the Adele H. Stamp Student Union and the Art and Learning Center to host the Combat Paper Project. Project creator Drew Cameron will facilitate workshops to transform uniforms worn in service into handmade paper.

After serving active duty in the Army for four years and in the Vermont Army National Guard for two years, Cameron launched the Combat Paper Project as a way for veterans to reclaim their uniforms as art through the transformative process of papermaking. I had the opportunity to speak with him about the Project and what it means to him as a veteran.

How did you personally get into papermaking?

I was originally taught papermaking as a teen. I grew up in Iowa; my father studied paper at the university there and he taught me. I rediscovered it just after I left active duty and went to Vermont. I apprenticed a printmaker there and went into practice. I’ve been studying and teaching it for about a decade…I love papermaking. I think it’s sort of this endless thing to discover, and using uniforms to make paper with, I think, is totally appropriate as an act of reverence.

What was the genesis of this project?

Combat paper uses traditional hand papermaking, which can mean using clothing rag. I served in the military – I was in the war in Iraq – and using the uniform for this traditional process was a perfect merging. It was an opportunity for me to continue to use this wonderful craft I admire and incorporate this socially relevant and personally meaningful context.

So the combat paper began on the workshop premise – facilitating that process of turning the uniforms into paper. I began offering these workshops in 2007….The workshops have been all over the country; there’s been well over 100 workshops in 27 states and five countries.

Can you tell me a little bit about the process of making combat paper?

So it’s really rooted in this traditional method of taking clothing and deconstructing it – taking it apart, removing zippers, buttons, Velcro seams – and you cut it down to small pieces, and then it’s beaten into a pulp with a machine called the Hollander beater. Then we take that pulp, suspend it in water and individually one at a time pull sheets of paper from a pulp. The process is very accessible, deliberate, fun. It provides an opportunity for someone to transform their own material into paper. Of course, the workshop is open to everyone, civilians and veterans alike, and I as facilitator will be there with materials that have been donated by fellow veterans for the purpose of making paper from the uniform.

What can participants expect to gain from the project?

I think there are lots of different ways to access the work. They can expect to learn how to make paper, and about this traditional technique. They can expect to create some of their own paper that they can keep. You can run it through the printer, write on it, turn it into a sculpture, make origami, bind it into a’s really open for interpretation.

What does this project mean to you?

It means my life work, so it’s very close to home.

For more information about the Combat Paper Project, visit their website and like them on Facebook.