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Old uniforms become new art at Penn State HUB, to be on exhibit at Pasquerilla Spiritual Center

Patrick Sargent and student Nicole Burkhardt work on the paper art. Patrick Sargent is visiting the Penn State HUB with his ART-illery papermaking workshop, October 14, 2014. In the workshop military uniforms and jeans are shredded into pulp and then used to make art.
Patrick Sargent and student Nicole Burkhardt work on the paper art. Patrick Sargent is visiting the Penn State HUB with his ART-illery papermaking workshop, October 14, 2014. In the workshop military uniforms and jeans are shredded into pulp and then used to make art. CDT photo

Some artists work in paint and paper. Others work in marble or clay.

For Patrick Sargent, his media are uniforms and the stories behind them.

At the HUB-Robeson Center on Tuesday, Sargent brought out the big “ART-illery.” The papermaking workshop encouraged people to bring in textiles like jeans and other cotton clothing as well as old uniforms from all branches of service.

Desert camouflage in both Army and Marine patterns, woodland fatigues and piles of Levis were sliced and diced into smaller and smaller pieces. Those would be mixed with water and processed down into a fibrous pulp. Separated by color, the fibers would be poured onto screens made of old trampoline materials, stretched on a wooden frame, and become a background for the art.

Sargent, however, is careful to say that the art is not the finished product, like the Nittany Lion picture that senior Nicole Burkhardt crafted.

“The art is the process,” he said.

Like a modern version of an old-time quilting bee, the artwork is an amalgamation of the stories each soldier, sailor, Marine or airman shares as he brings his old clothes out to become new art.

The faint yellow in the sky over Burkhardt’s lion? It wasn’t any yellow. It came from pulping the uniform pants of a Navy officer. The stories of his service filter through Sargent’s art the same way he showed Burkhardt how to filter the fibers over the screen. Nothing is wasted. It all becomes part of the finished project.

Sargent, a George Mason University graduate student, is using the project as his thesis, but it is also a study in how art can both preserve the stories of war and how it can help people deal with their feelings and reintegrate into the community. He has done work at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, not just with patients, but with nurses struggling with emotions after losing patients. Some of the fibers used at the HUB included nursing scrubs.

The presentation continues at the Wagner Building from 9 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday with workshops. The finished work will be displayed at the Pasquerilla Spiritual Center through Oct. 30.

The events were coordinated by the Center for Performing Arts as a companion to “Basetrack Live,” a unique theatrical experience dealing with life in the military and deployment through true-life exchanges on social media.

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