Administrators with The Touchstone Center for Crafts in Farmington have desired to offer the benefits of arts and creating to as many groups as possible over the past years.

While they’ve offered a week each summer for teens interested in creating, this past summer was the first year for the educators week. And now, they are excited to announce that next summer they will be offering a week-long opportunity for military veterans.

At a recent press conference, Lindsay Ketterer Gates, executive director for Touchstone, announced that they will partner with Frontline Arts out of New Jersey to offer veterans an immersive arts experience.

“Participants will immerse themselves in deconstructing their old uniforms, turning them into paper pulp and ultimately into a platform to communicate their stories,” said Gates. “Touchstone hopes to offer an exhibition of works created during this workshop upon its completion.”

Rachel Hebering, executive director at Frontline Arts, said Frontline Paper was actually a program started around 2011 by veterans already involved in the arts center there.

“They were looking to create a transformative program for veterans where they could meet in a safe space and talk about their experiences together,” she said.

From there, Frontline formed mobile workshops so that the program could be taken on the road to benefit as many veterans as possible.

The workshop consists of handmade papermaking sessions for veterans, friends, and family members. In the participatory process, veterans and non-veterans share stories while deconstructing military uniforms, press handmade paper from the fibers, then tell their stories via writing and printmaking on the newly formed paper.

Hebering said most of the art created is 2D and one of the favorite techniques is relief print making. Some have made three dimensional work, including pop-up books.

“Our main mission is to create, connect and build communication between the veterans,” she said “You meet complete strangers and find a commonality. It’s an incredible way to instantly connect with others and maybe, along the way, fall in love with the process.”

Brian Bensen, director of Veteran’s Affairs of Fayette County, said this art therapy workshop is a great outlet for veterans.

“I’m dealing with varying age groups when it comes to the veterans, and no matter what era or war they fought in, this is something that all of them can participate in,” he said. “A lot of veterans need outlets, and this is an outlet for them to express themselves. This promotes teamwork and challenges and camaraderie - the things that all of them miss after serving as a unit.”

Ketterer Gates said they plan to hold the workshop Aug. 10-14. She added that there is room for 30 veterans to participate, and they would like to be able to offer both the tuition for the program as well as room and board free for the participants.

Right now, because of a funds donated by the Kinard family and their establishment of the Agnes and James Kindard Scholarship fund dedicated to scholarships for veterans, Touchstone will be able to offer full tuition scholarships for up to 15 veterans wishing to participate.

“This scholarship money is really fantastic and a great start to offering the whole experience for free, but it’s not quite enough to cover all expenses associated with bringing the veterans to our campus,” said Ketterer Gates.

“We still need money to cover the cost of food and housing while they’re here and anything we receive above that will go towards adding more veterans into the program,” she added.

Anyone wishing to contribute towards workshop scholarships for veterans to attend this or other Touchstone workshops can contact the center at 724-329-1370, emailing director@touchstonecrafts.org or mailing to 1049 Wharton Furnace Road, Farmington, PA 15437.

Veterans interested in participating in the Frontline Paper week-long program next August can download a scholarship application beginning Jan. 1 through March 15 next year at www.touchstonecenterforcrafts.org.

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