Using art to heal war wounds |

Using art to heal war wounds

Western Nevada College
Garrett Meyer, who served in the Army in Korea and Iraq from 2008-2013, shows pulp from his uniform that will be made into paper as part of an art class at WNC as Joe Drakulich operates the pulp beater.
Brad Coman | Nevada Appeal

Helping and healing is their mission. Joseph and Tina Drakulich of Reno have taken art into many venues to connect with and help local veterans. The experiences also further their own healing process from the tragic loss of their son, David, who was killed while on patrol in Afghanistan in 2008.

The Reno couple came to Western Nevada College this week to offer Suellen Johnson’s Visual Foundations art class a hands-on experience in repurposing old military uniforms into paper.

The Drakuliches created the David J. Foundation for Freedom of Expression in honor of their son. One of the foundation’s projects, Combat Paper Nevada, allows them to reach out to community members associated with the military, as well as others, to recycle clothing into paper.

Combat Paper Nevada workshops began nearly two years ago as the Drakuliches collaborated with Lt. Col. Jo Meacham and Luana Ritch, retired from the Nevada Air National Guard and U.S. Army, respectively, for the project.

The couple hopes the workshop can improve outcomes for resiliency, reintegration and reconciliation of veterans. Their belief is art heals war wounds.

“I do get a personal sense of therapy working with students,” said Tina, who teaches at Esther Bennett Elementary School in Reno. “I love to connect with others in a creative way, especially if it can bring light to difficult subjects such as trauma and grief.”

In Johnson’s classroom at WNC, the couple’s presentation inspired one student to return home and retrieve an old military uniform to contribute to the class project.

“It brings up feelings of military service or loss of loved ones,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s students learn the fundamentals of art, including line, color, shape, value, form and temperature, and texture during the eight-week course. The addition of the paper project offered them a new skill.

Students were led through the process of cutting up the cloth then shown how to machine it into pulp with the aid of a Hollander beater. The slurry was then transformed into paper by using mesh on a mold and a deckle or wooden frame. The drying process normally includes running over the paper with a truck, forcing out the remaining water from the sheets of paper.

Johnson’s class, however, pressed out the excess water by forming groups of four and standing on the stacks of paper.

The sheets of paper can now be used for artwork, poetry or books.

“That is the best thing in the world and it is why I teach,” Tina said. “There is nothing like contributing to our culture by enriching it and allowing it to enrich me.”

Learn more about the David J. Drakulich Foundation for Freedom of Expression at David Drakulich was an inspired and expressive artist whose work can be viewed at

The mission of the foundation is to provide and promote art education and experiences to veterans, their families, active and reserve men and women and their families and gold star families (ones who have lost a loved one in war).

Contact Tina Drakulich to attend a Combat Paper Nevada workshop or to arrange for a group at 775-229-8943 or