A Budding Relationship
This year marked the inaugural year of Veterans in Craft week at the Haystack Mountain School of Craft. In partnership with Frontline Arts, they brought more than 40 Veterans from across the country to a workshop/creative retreat for a week during their pre-season. We gathered during meal times to share what we’d learned in one of three workshops being presented – writing, paper making, and ceramics. In the evenings, presentations by our instructors and resident artist Ehren Tool were available for us to attend. As in the past, the week was a HUGE success…for me.
Prior to 2018
But wait… didn’t I just say that this was their inaugural year? I did…but the evolution of this partnership goes a little deeper than that. Back in..2014 I believe, what was then called Combat Paper New Jersey, came to Haystack and did a weekend workshop on how to make paper from old military uniforms. This combat paper thing was started by Veteran artist Drew Cameron. I didn’t attend that very first workshop in 2014 but was invited to attend in 2015 for the Combat Paper workshop hosted by then Combat Paper NJ. I have a long laundry list of health issues and was concerned that I would be in over my head or would face a medical crisis/emergency while there – in 2015, my seizures weren’t yet under control. David Keefe (the then director) and his partner in crime (now wife) Saydi, Eli Wright, and Donna Bassin all assured me that they would help in whatever way I needed. It was my first time away from home since my medical retirement. The week was AMAZING. I met other artists who were also Veterans and was able to truly immerse myself in the magic that is Haystack. It was here, that I met my tribe. I left the week with new friends, having learned a lot about myself, and realizing that I wasn’t alone in the way I thought and felt. You see, my transition out of the Army wasn’t as difficult as many others, but it was a difficult time. I never really felt like I fit in with the stereotypical Veteran community, nor did I feel like I fit in with the stereotypical artist community. I straddled both worlds and had been unable to make those interpersonal bonds/connections with people in either. But during this week long paper making workshop, I found a group of people who “got it” and in turn “got me”. It was liberating to say the least.
I was lucky enough to attend again in 2016 – where it was still called the combat paper workshop. While Combat Paper NJ was transitioning and morphing into Frontline Arts in 2017 – there was no workshop. So in January of 2018 when the first round of emails went out announcing the “Veterans in Craft” week at Haystack I was ecstatic! From 20-26 May 2018, I had the opportunity to hang with “my people” again. This time around, the week was more closely structured like a traditional workshop that Haystack hosts. It was more than just paper making. There WAS a paper making class led by Eli Wright; but there were two new additions to the roster – a writing workshop led by Kevin Basl and a ceramics workshop led by Jessica Putnam-Phillips. I took the ceramics workshop. What the first of HOPEFULLY many more joint ventures between Frontline Arts and Haystack, was an amazing time. Nearly a month later, and I’m still processing everything I learned. It was the first out of the last three years of attendance where my health was more or less stabilized and my seizures were under control – this meant I really got to immerse myself in the experience. The days were filled with instruction and fellowship with fellow Veteran artists while the nights were filled with artist talks and late-night hangouts in front of the fireplace in the dining hall. For the third time, the week proved to be exactly what I needed. It provided camaraderie I had been searching for and haven’t yet found locally, it provided amazing opportunities to network with Veterans doing amazing things from all over the country, and it left me feeling rejuvenated and excited for the possibilities and applications in my own art practice.
Haystack is Magical
While I think that finding a group of people where you are comfortable and feel as though you belong is something we all strive to find…there is something about the culmination of us Veteran artists AT Haystack that is pure magic.
The Haystack Mountain School of Crafts sits perched on rocky cliffs overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. You are surrounded by nature and it permeates everything on the campus. You can sit on the deck and watch the lobster boats cruise back into harbor after a long day of fishing. You can hike down to the rocks at the edge of the water and lose yourself in the sounds of the waves crashing at your feet. Haystack is magical. And it is this magic that makes the Veterans in Craft week so monumental to so many of us. We come to Haystack to get away from reality for a bit and to hopefully connect with some likeminded folks. In the three years I’ve been lucky enough to attend, I’ve never been disappointed. Every time I’ve been at Haystack, it feels as though I’m being welcomed home. I always walk/roll away at the end of the week sad that it has ended, but thankful for the lasting bonds that were woven together on its shores.
Veterans in Craft Week – a Success
The Veterans in Craft week was a success in my book. For those reading this who are artists and also a Veteran, I can’t recommend enough that you get on the email list for both of these organizations and watch out for the calls for applications. If you have the opportunity to apply to go, do it. You can thank me later.