The Peace Paper Project Weaves Veterans Into the Community Fabric

Art as Therapy

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Returning to civilian life can be a delicate matter for the soldier, sailor, airman or marine who has gone to war and “seen the elephant.” It’s all about reassembling threads of the past and moving on to the future. The Florida State University Student Veterans Center is literally helping these former warriors do exactly that. Thanks to the inspiration provided by the Veteran Paper Workshop, an offshoot of the Peace Paper Project, the veterans’ center is providing a new way for returning warriors to open up and talk about their experiences.

Courtesy Drew Matott/Peace Paper Project

Julian’s Creative Arts Workshop, a Florida State University Student Veterans Center project, was named for Marine Cpl. Julian M. Woodall, a SAIL High School graduate killed in Iraq in 2007.

The process involves taking an old uniform out of the closet and, using an ancient form of making paper by hand, pulping the cloth into paper fiber that can then be used for artistic expression. A silkscreen process is used to embed whatever image the uniform’s owner finds most meaningful. 

“As a nation, we have a responsibility to weave the threads of individuals in our society back into the fabric of America,” said William Francis, director of the FSU Student Veteran Center. “Our responsibility to veterans is to see to it that they become an integrated part of our nation’s fabric. So it’s about initiating, creating and sustaining relationships. This program is unique in that it literally does that and it takes threads and reconstitutes them into an expression of the individual that helps them reintegrate.”

But it goes beyond the veterans, themselves. Families grieve for military servants who never came home. They, too, need an outlet for expressing their feelings. That’s something Meredith McMackin, a doctoral student in art education with a focus on art therapy, knows all too well. McMackin, an academic advisor in the College of Human Sciences, lost her son, U.S. Marine Cpl. Julian McMackin Woodall, to an improvised explosive device (IED) during his second Iraq deployment in 2007.

“That really changed my life,” she said. “And I sort of floundered for a while trying to figure out what to do, because I wanted to do something. My goal really was to help bring peace to this planet. Because I just experienced how painful war can be.”

FSU Photo Services/Bill Lax

The hands-on process allows veterans to open up more about who they are and what they experienced while in the service.

A year later, McMackin found herself working with student veterans as an advisor in the Collegiate Veterans Association, an adjunct service of the Student Veterans Center. This work inspired her to consider a role in art therapy.

“I really had one of those light bulb moments,” she said. “I didn’t want to leave all my years of art behind, and I never considered art therapy, but it seemed a perfect thing to do.”

Eventually, McMackin became the driving force that brought the Peace Paper Project to FSU. The Peace Paper Project’s mission is to introduce care providers to the art of making paper by hand with an idea toward using this creative process to help heal emotional trauma. The Veteran Paper Workshop visits college campuses and gives veterans a chance to express themselves and connect with the campus community. The FSU veteran center is so committed to this project that it bought its own pulping and papermaking machine to conduct its own workshops, Francis said.

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