Building bridges: Combat Paper workshops accompany ‘My Lai’ at Hancher

Lecture: Conversation with Drew Cameron of Combat Paper

Iowa Memorial Union — Monday, March 19 at 11:30 a.m.

Combat Paper Workshop

The Garden Room (123 E Washington St, Fl. 2) — Monday, March 19 at 6:30 p.m.

The Combat Paper process in action. — video still

Hancher Auditorium will host two free public events featuring Combat Paper co-founder and Iraq War veteran Drew Cameron in Iowa City on Monday, March 19, leading up to Hancher’s production of the opera My Lai on March 21.

Hancher and Combat Paper are sponsoring a workshop and discussion on March 19 in conjunction with Hancher’s production of My Lai, a story that examines the tragedy of the My Lai Massacre and the story of soldier who tried to bring the perpetrators to justice — Hugh Thompson. With the 50th anniversary of the massacre having just passed (March 16), Hancher’s My Lai and the accompanying Combat Paper engagement activities hope to spark a dialogue between people as to how “events of the past inform the present,” Cameron told Little Village.

Combat Paper is a process that “blends contemporary printing techniques with traditional papermaking,” according to their website. Combat Paper takes military uniforms and transforms them into usable paper via pulp printing, “a wet process that allows freshly formed sheets of paper to be instantaneously rendered with colorful imagery derived from a finely beaten pulp sprayed through a stencil, fusing the image and sheet in this versatile and approachable method.”

The lecture, “Conversation with Drew Cameron of Combat Paper,” will take place at Iowa Memorial Union in the Old Capitol Room (room 347). From 11:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m., Cameron will discuss how Combat Paper helps create “a deeper understanding between people and expand our collective beliefs of military service and war.” The discussion will be moderated by Hancher’s Public Engagement Coordinator Jesus “Chuy” Renteria and Education Manager Micah Ariel James, and will be recorded for the podcast “Hancher Presents.”

The second event, “Combat Paper — A Workshop with Drew Cameron,” is scheduled at the Garden Room (123 E. Washington Street, Fl. 2) from 6:30 p.m.–8:30 p.m. During the workshop, 20 participants will be able to learn Cameron’s method of turning old military uniforms into paper. Cameron said participants of the workshop will be able to “see my process, directly engage, learn and make their own paper.” The number of participants for the workshop is limited, but several spots are still available. (To RSVP, contact Renteria at

James said the workshop and lecture will help give participants a different perspective of warfare and the military, as well as the ability to see the “links of Vietnam and today’s wars.”

“Both sessions will give us a good chance to engage with [Cameron] and his work,” James said.

Rinde Eckert as Hugh Thompson in ‘My Lai.’ — video still

In addition to the public events, Cameron’s residency at Hancher will include four exclusive events from March 19–20. On March 19, Cameron will conduct a papermaking workshop at the University of Iowa Center for the Book. He will then host a discussion with UI graduate printmaking students, host a demonstration with undergraduate art and printmaking students and present a workshop with art students at Liberty High School on March 20. Cameron said these workshops are designed to help people and their communities make “positive connections” in order to discuss complex feelings and thoughts that often defy conventional language.

“It’s a good way to connect with each other and find common ground,” Cameron said. “It’s a really unique way to engage with others on what is present in our everyday lives.”

Cameron was born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and currently works as a papermaker in the Mission District of San Francisco, California. Along with the different places his life has taken him in the U.S. and abroad, Cameron has deep roots here in the Hawkeye State, having lived in Iowa City and attended West High School. His mother was a 5th-grade teacher at Coralville Central Elementary School. His father was a career officer in the U.S. Air Force and studied the craft of Japanese-style papermaking at the University of Iowa under MacArthur Genius Grant recipient Tim Barrett. His parents, who still reside in Coralville, left an impression on their son and the journey he would embark upon.

“I have fond memories of my time in Iowa,” Cameron said.

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Cameron followed in his father’s footsteps by enlisting in the U.S. Army, where he served from 2000–06. He also served in the Vermont National Guard. It wasn’t longer before Cameron followed in his father’s footsteps once again, this time by renewing his passion for papermaking. His artwork has been featured in numerous exhibits and public collections around the country, including the Library of Congress.

In 2007, he co-founded Combat Paper (formerly Combat Paper Project) with his former teacher and printmaker Drew Matott. The group’s mission statement notes: “Combat Paper workshops are a space to directly engage with the process of taking military uniforms and transforming them into handmade paper. Maintaining an open and accessible atmosphere is a founding principle that we continue with today. The workshop welcomes people to bring in their own material into the process. We also provide donated uniforms from veterans and their families to share.”

Over the past decade, Combat Paper has participated in over 100 workshops and activities across the country. Cameron previously conducted Combat Paper workshops and delivered lectures in Iowa City at UI’s Center for the Book in April and September 2010, as well as at Hancher Auditorium and Iowa City Public Library in February 2015.

Cameron became involved with the creative team behind the stage show My Lai in 2015. With his background in combat and as his abilities an artist, he was brought on board as a creative consultant by My Lai composer Jonathan Berger. Cameron said his involvement with My Lai has had a “big impact” on him.

“When we think about the war in Vietnam today, I think it is important to recognize and look into the story of Hugh Thompson,” he said.

Cameron has created a series of prints inspired by Thompson’s story made from military uniforms that were worn by American troops during the Vietnam War. During his interview with Little Village, Cameron stressed the importance of findings new ways to understand historical events such as the war in Vietnam.

James said that Hancher is excited to bring these activities to Iowa City.

“Being able to work with members of the community, [Cameron] has developed this unique perspective of veterans and non-veterans and building bridges between them,” James said.