Self Portrait with Coffee

Tom Lascell

Black and White Photography


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paper mask

Paper Mask


Working out of the community darkroom at the Green Door Studio in Burlington, VT, I linked up with a bunch of papermakers. Vets using papermaking as a vehicle to tell their personal stories, of personal trauma, of the dehumanizing effects of war. Like all artists, they were searching for a way to find their voice.

At first, I saw papermaking as a means to expand my own medium, to make hand-crafted paper for book covers, for broadsides to display my images. So I learned to make paper from recycled cotton, from linen, from abaca and "blue iris" leaves from my garden. After some trial and error, I even developed a paper suitable for printing my images using alternative photographic processes. Some of my images have found their expression as cyanotypes, kallitypes and salt or albumen prints, using the age old photographic processes.

But I'm also a Vietnam era vet. While my military experience was different from those young men and women who saw combat, I could appreciate their attempt to find their personal voice through papermaking. As a child of the 60's and having served in the Peace Corps, I had my own perspective on the dehumanizing affects of military service. After participating in the first Combat Paper Project workshop at St. Lawrence University in 2008, I saw the transformational power of pulping one's uniform, of exchanging one set of memories and symbols for another. By unleashing those old memories, many of which had been repressed, by sharing them with others, by destroying one set of symbols that reflected the past and reforming them into something new, brought a sense of closure, a personal release from traumas of the past. It was truly liberating.

3rd ID

3rd ID

cast cotton pulp sculpture with imbedded military ephemera (2009)
12 x 8 inches, lifesize


I then began making masks from paper pulp, surely metaphors of my different selves, as I searched for an expression of my own personal story. One of the first contained bits of my military past; a draft card, deployment orders, weapons qualification medals. I called it 3rd ID. And with the making of the mask came the release of memories, of the loss of innocence of youth, of the regimentation and dehumanizing impact of boot camp where I was remade into a soldier. Of being transformed from a volunteer in the Peace Corps to a conscript in the War Corps. And recollections of the personal power and pride I felt when firing a machine gun or lobbing a grenade down range. In the act of transforming one set of symbols for another I found I could release those lost feelings and embrace the person I have become.

This piece traveled with the Combat Paper Project exhibit. It was included on their tour of the United Kingdom in 2009 and was shown at the Courtauld Institute, London, England and the Phoenix Gallery, Brighton, England. It has also shown at the Newark Public Library (2010), the Vietnam Era Museum (2010), the Arlington Public Library (2011), the University of Rhode Island (2011), the Muckenthaler Cultural Center (2012), Lycoming College (2012), Herron College of Art & Design (2013), the University of Maryland (2014), and the Monterey County Free Libraries (2014). It was also included in The Art and Art Therapy of Papermaking, an art therapy textbook, edited by Drew Matott and Gretchen Miller in 2023.



Pride and Prjudice

Pride and Prejudice

triptych of masks made from combat paper (2009)
27 x 38 inches


A second set of masks was created at an artist residency in Key West in 2009, a triptych made from combat paper, rendered in red, white and blue. Pride and Prejudice takes you from the literal to the abstract, from traditional pride to conflicted prejudice. Some may see shame, but patriotism comes in many guises, often confusing, always deeply personal.

This piece also traveled with the Combat Paper Project exhibit. It has shown at the Studios of Key West (2009), the Newark Public Library (2010), the Vietnam Era Museum (2010), the Arlington Public Library (2011), Skyloft Gallery (2011), the University of Rhode Island (2011), Old Dominion University (2012), the Seminole Nation Museum (2012), Art Rage Gallery (2013), the Pump House Center for the Arts (2014), Texas A&M University (2015), the Vets Gallery in Providence, RI (2016), and the Kent Cultural Alliance (2017). It was also included in Art Works, a visual arts textbook by Janet Markus published in February 2011.



Left    Center    Right

Detail views of the three masks ...


Both of these pieces reflect my work with the Combat Paper Project, an organization that offers papermaking workshops to military veterans to help them find their personal voice. I also managed the web site for the project through2015.



More paper masks




Copyright © Tom Lascell | 5 Pleasant Street, Canton, NY 13617 | 315.854.4279