At MCLA, visiting Peace Paper Project blends art, therapy and creativity

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NORTH ADAMS — Ian Mosher, a junior at Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, served for 20 years as a military photographer.

On Tuesday, he was at the college beating parts of his uniform — as well as fabric from his wife and children — into pulp.

"That chapter of my life is over," said Mosher, 39, of Pownal, Vt.

Mosher was participating in workshops as part of the Peace Paper Project, which was at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts on Monday and Tuesday.

Part art, part therapy, and equal parts social engagement and community activism, the Peace Paper Project takes participants on a journey.

On the first leg, they learn the handmade paper process by turning clothing into pulp, much like how the Berkshires' own Crane & Co. turned old rags into writing material. Then, participants undergo a process of personal transformation, by literally ripping up a tangible part of their past and reconstituting it into a piece of art.

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The third component involves putting that art, and the story behind it, into the public sphere by sharing it in a presentation or public exhibition.

"It doesn't go back into the closet," said Drew Matott, director and founder of the project.

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And Matott knows it can be an emotional experience — he has used the process to memorialize his own father and brother.

At MCLA, he led a lecture and papermaking workshops featuring The Oracle, a bicycle-powered Hollander paper pulp-beater engineered by fellow papermaker Lee McDonald.

The project was first developed at the Green Door Studio in Burlington, Vt., and it was formally launched in 2011. Since then, hundreds of workshops have involved more than 30,000 people worldwide, partnering participants like veterans, sexual assault survivors and incarcerated youth with community leaders, mental health professionals and art therapists.

The Peace Paper Project has also helped launch dozens of permanent papermaking programs and studios, from Poland to Mumbai.

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MCLA art professor Melanie Mowinski, who funded the program through an Andrew Mellon Foundation grant and her PRESS: Letterpress as a Public Art Project, said introducing this process on campus expands students' views on how they can use their creative skills.

"The Peace Paper Project introduces students to how a passion can become not only one's life mission, but also one's income," she said.

The pulp that students made with Matott can be used to make hundreds of sheets of paper.

"My hope is that they will continue this process on their own here," he said. "We'll see what they do with it."

Jenn Smith can be reached at, at @JennSmith_Ink on Twitter and 413-496-6239.


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