Papermaking with Drew Matott

SARANAC LAKE Its difficult to imagine life being anything other than exciting in the presence of Drew Matott. The 31-year-old Potsdam native is a magnate of positive energy. For Matott, negative occurrences and bad experiences are merely opportunities for artistic growth a trait that seems to rub off on everyone he encounters. First and foremost, Matott is a paper-maker. He breaks down materials like cotton into pulps of all colors, and uses the pulp to create paper that later serves as a medium for artists from all walks of life. Matott is also a print-maker, a painter, an artist, a lecturer and, most importantly, a facilitator. Currently, Matott under the direction of artistic director Carol Vossler is taking on a residency at Bluseed Studios in Saranac Lake. Earlier this summer he, with help from Bob Walp who specializes in letterpressing and bookbinding taught a series of papermaking workshops, and at least three more are scheduled throughout September. Matotts creativity began flourishing at an early age. At five, he remembers a project he undertook as a result of growing up in a household with five brothers and one sister. When I was a kid, my brothers and I used to get these G.I. Joe toys, recalled Matott. Youd cut the flags off the back of the box they came in, and save them up and you could send them in and get the Hooded Cobra Commander. We were really poor growing up, so there was competition for the flags and my brothers, theyd always steal mine. So Id make my own and send them in, and they never sent me anything back. That was my first art project. Indeed, it was the freedom to explore his surroundings that attracted Matott to art at such an early age. Years later, he purchased a video recorder and began filming with his brothers by the time college arrived, he had been accepted at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, at Ithaca College. I applied to go to film school, Matott noted. I didnt last long. I dropped out and travelled, took a Greyhound to Mexico and up the west coast. After that, I thought maybe I would go back to school for writing. Eventually, he found himself at Buffalo State, where he enrolled in a printmaking class. Due to the curriculum, Matott was allowed to take the same class multiple times but soon, his professors encouraged him to try something different. I had been taking my stills and creating large wood cuts, my professors said I should take papermaking so I could make these big sheets of paper to print my wood cuts on, Matott said. Papermaking offered a unique approach to art for Matott. For starters, its low cost, and it uses resources that are easy to find. Furthermore, the artist is able to add layers of meaning to a project. You can further embed content, Matott added. For example, the paper could be made from a prison uniform and then contain a poem written about the experience of prison. Thats why Im interested in papermaking. Matott noted that when he makes paper, he does so with a specific agenda that the product is ultimately used to create more art. In many cases, his paper will be used by other artists to create books or paintings. The paper itself is art for me, he said. Matott is perhaps most famous for helping start the Combat Paper Project. Years ago, after founding the Green Door Studio in Burlington, he met an Iraq veteran named Drew Cameron who eventually took over the Green Door. Cameron joined this organization called Iraq Veterans Against the War, Matott said. He hosted a writing workshop, as a kind of activity they pulled sheets of paper and they printed the covers of the book which they made from their writing with it. From that, there came this idea of cutting up their informs and making paper from it. The two artists originally hoped to organize a street performance during which Cameron would cut his uniform from his body and Matott would make paper from it. Matott tried to obtain permits in Chicago, but could not find support. Eventually, Cameron took the initiative. One day, he just cut his uniform off, recalled Matott. Somebody was there to take pictures, and he wrote a description of what it felt like. He said it was liberating and it was like letting go. Through a grant proposal, the Project acquired $2,500 to set up a workshop. Word of Camerons actions spread, and veterans started contacting Matott, asking how they could get involved. Now, the veterans are nearly running the Combat Paper Project themselves. I have no desire to keep things running, said Matott. I like to set these things up and act as a facilitator. The pride for me is watching these things take on a life of their own. And that is Matotts goal while working at Bluseed. Like Vossler, his aim is to share his experiences with the community, and to get people involved. He helped acquire a press for the studio last winter, and brought Chestertowns Robert Walp to Bluseed to prepare the press for use. In January, Matott will travel to India to teach papermaking. But he will donate his equipment and his books to the studio in hopes that the artists at Bluseed and the greater community will embrace his craft and continue to create art with it. Its hard for me to stay in one place, he concluded. Im sure I will come back, but for me the best part is sparking interest and hoping people will keep it going when I leave.

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