Three U.S. military veterans-turned-artists turn their own—and others’—stories into art.
AFTER SIX YEARS IN THE U.S. ARMY, including a period on the ground in Iraq in 2003, Drew Cameron was thrust back into civilian life. He struggled with anxiety, alcohol and, simply, finding his purpose. Then, in 2007, he took a papermaking workshop, cut up his uniform, and turned it into paper, a therapeutic experience that inspired him to co-found the Combat Paper Project.A decade later, the project has outposts across the country, where soldiers, people connected to the military, and civilians learn how to deconstruct Army uniforms and other fibers to make paper—a technique dating back to the eighth century. Participants use that paper, which Cameron calls “lineage fiber,” to tell their stories through artwork and writing.
The project can help soldiers to process what they’ve been through. “We are an amalgamation of our collective experiences,” says Cameron, who’s based in San Francisco. “Each uniform is a person. It’s a way to make connections to a broader story, making something larger than yourself.”
Cameron will be conducting a Combat Paper workshop here in Houston on March 25 as part of the Center for Contemporary Craft’s “United by Hand: Work and Service,” which opens this month and features his own work alongside that of two other artists/veterans. He’ll also be collecting military uniforms and civilian clothing for a new paper piece he’s developing for the center, titled 9.5 x 5: Houston—a large flag to be constructed during a workshop on March 24.
The other featured artists are also storytellers. Richmond, Virginia–based Alicia Dietz, a former Army officer who served in combat and peacekeeping missions around the world—including Iraq—returned to life as a civilian in 2011. A woodworker and furniture maker, she drew on her journalism background during her time with the Army and afterward, recording the experiences of soldiers, their spouses and veterans.
The result is the 2016 installation Collective Cadence, which shares 117 of those stories, etched in glass or printed on aluminum, organized into clusters according to the blood type of each person they represent, and displayed in elaborate networks of wooden frames. Dietz will give a talk about her work at the center February 4, where she’ll collect more stories to add to her archive.
Finally, Berkeley-based Ehren Tool, who served as a Marine during the Gulf War, is a ceramics artist. He’s crafted more than 18,000 cups on his wheel, pressing graphic symbols of war and death into the clay. Hundreds of them will be on display at the center; the artist will host a demonstration on April 22 and give away the results on Memorial Day (May 27) to conclude the exhibition.
“Each cup, installation and sheet of combat paper serves as a starting point for what we hope will be a larger conversation inside the gallery,” says curator Kathryn Hall. “We are all affected by war. It is this common ground that will bridge different viewpoints.”
“United by Hand: Work and Service”
Feb 3–May 28. Free. Houston Center for Contemporary Craft, 4848 Main St. 713-529-4848. For a full schedule of events, visit crafthouston.org.