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Poppy

  • Place of origin:

    Derby (The method of making the ceramic poppies involved slicing the clay blocks with a bow saw, then rolling the slabs of clay to 4mm. thick in an electric rolling machine. Two sizes of 'trefoils' were then hand-stamped from the clay by means of shaped metal cutters. A separate tool was used to cut the correct size of hole in the centre of the 'trefoils'. The smaller 'trefoil' was then placed on the larger such that the petals alternated. The two 'trefoils' were joined and the petals manipulated to form each flower. They are thus all subtly different from each other. The method in Derby was then to leave the shapes to go 'leather hard' on open racks for 24 hours, whereas in Tunstall, they were put in a cabinet dryer for at least 6 hours. This reduced the moisture sufficiently to biscuit fire at 1000°C. The flowers were hand-dipped in glaze and these base and top coats were fired to 1117°C., designed)
    Derby (possibly (a proportion of the poppy heads were made in Derby), made)
    Tunstall (possibly (about 400,000 of the poppies were made in Tunstall), made)
    Derby (designed)
    Whichford (possibly (about 97,500 of the poppies were made in Whichford, Shipston-upon-Stour, Warwickshire), made)

  • Date:

    2012-13 (designed)
    2014 (made)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Cummins, Paul (artist)
    Johnson Tiles (manufacturers)
    Whichford Pottery (makers)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Slightly sanded red earthenware biscuit-fired to 1000°C, hand-dipped in two glaze coatings fired to 1117°C. Rubber washers, plastic spacer and end cap. Bright steel bar formed to 5mm diameter rod. Oxidisation of rod occurred due to exposure during Tower moat installation period.

  • Museum number:

    C.15:1 to 6-2015

  • Gallery location:

    In Storage

'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' was a poignant installation which commemorated the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War. The brainchild of ceramic artist Paul Cummins (b. Chesterfield, 1977), it was sited between 5th August and 11th November 2014 in the dry moat of the Tower of London. The moat had been used as a training ground at the start of the War for City of London workers who had enlisted to fight. The 888,246 ceramic poppies comprising the installation represented every British or Colonial fatality of the War. Sixteen of this vast number were members of V&A staff. The Museum purchased sixteen poppies to honour their sacrifice. Their names are recorded in the Museum’s main entrance hall on a memorial tablet designed by sculptor and typographer Eric Gill. No two poppies made for the Tower installation were identical as each was painstakingly hand-made, assembled and shaped by a teams of people working to Paul Cummins' design and direction. The differences in finished size and shape emphasise the individuality of the Fallen. Many individuals came to view the installation and many purchased poppies, the net proceeds being divided equally among Services charities.

In autumn 2013, Historic Royal Palaces commissioned Tom Piper (b. London,1964) to stage the installation itself. Piper is a freelance stage designer who was Associate Designer for the Royal Shakespeare Company for ten years to 2014. Paul Cummins and Tom Piper were both made MBEs in the 2015 New Year Honours, testimony to the extraordinary impact of 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' which was seen by about five million visitors including members of the royal family. This impact derived from its colour, overall form and spectacle, as well as the vast fluid scale which increased as poppies were ‘planted’. Seeing each separate ceramic poppy standing for individuals who died, visitors were able to visualise the number of lives lost while taking time for personal, quiet reflection. The connection between the individual flower and mass interaction is key to all work by Paul Cummins.

Physical description

Six-petalled ceramic poppy head with bright red glaze and central hole, fixed with two washers, a spacer and end cap to a steel rod with oxidised surface.

Place of Origin

Derby (The method of making the ceramic poppies involved slicing the clay blocks with a bow saw, then rolling the slabs of clay to 4mm. thick in an electric rolling machine. Two sizes of 'trefoils' were then hand-stamped from the clay by means of shaped metal cutters. A separate tool was used to cut the correct size of hole in the centre of the 'trefoils'. The smaller 'trefoil' was then placed on the larger such that the petals alternated. The two 'trefoils' were joined and the petals manipulated to form each flower. They are thus all subtly different from each other. The method in Derby was then to leave the shapes to go 'leather hard' on open racks for 24 hours, whereas in Tunstall, they were put in a cabinet dryer for at least 6 hours. This reduced the moisture sufficiently to biscuit fire at 1000°C. The flowers were hand-dipped in glaze and these base and top coats were fired to 1117°C., designed)
Derby (possibly (a proportion of the poppy heads were made in Derby), made)
Tunstall (possibly (about 400,000 of the poppies were made in Tunstall), made)
Derby (designed)
Whichford (possibly (about 97,500 of the poppies were made in Whichford, Shipston-upon-Stour, Warwickshire), made)

Date

2012-13 (designed)
2014 (made)

Artist/maker

Cummins, Paul (artist)
Johnson Tiles (manufacturers)
Whichford Pottery (makers)

Materials and Techniques

Slightly sanded red earthenware biscuit-fired to 1000°C, hand-dipped in two glaze coatings fired to 1117°C. Rubber washers, plastic spacer and end cap. Bright steel bar formed to 5mm diameter rod. Oxidisation of rod occurred due to exposure during Tower moat installation period.

Dimensions

Height: 6.5 cm poppy head, Width: 13 cm poppy head, Length: 10.3 cm poppy head, Diameter: 0.5 cm poppy stem, Length: 45 cm poppy stem

Object history note

The poignant, dramatic and phenomenally crowd-drawing installation 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' was sited in the dry moat of the Tower of London between 5th August and 11th November 2014. Commemorating the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, each of the 888,246 ceramic poppies forming the installation represented a British or Colonial military fatality. Sixteen of the Fallen were members of V&A staff – hence the Museum purchased sixteen of the poppies to honour their sacrifice. The names of these men are recorded in the Museum’s main entrance hall on a memorial tablet designed by sculptor and typographer Eric Gill (1919).

‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ was the brainchild of ceramic artist Paul Cummins (b.1977). He took the title from the opening line of a poem written by an unknown soldier who was killed in Flanders. Paul Cummins came across the poem among wills of First World War soldiers kept at the Derbyshire Record Office in Chesterfield. He approached Historic Royal Palaces about using the Tower moat, which had been used as a training ground at the start of the War for the so-called 'Stockbrokers' Battalion', City of London workers who had enlisted to fight. His idea was accepted as the country's main commemorative project for the First World War centenary. On 17th July 2014 the first poppy was placed in the moat and on Remembrance Day, Cummins handed the last one to be placed to Harry Hayes, aged thirteen, from Reading Bluecoat School's Combined Cadet Force. Thereafter, the poppies were gradually removed by volunteers and cleaned and packaged for distribution to their new owners. The poppies had been purchased by many individuals and the net proceeds were divided equally among Services charities. Since a few years after the First World War, the Royal British Legion has sold poppies (at first silk and later paper) each autumn for charity. The fragile flowers flourished on the battlefields, inspiring the famous poem ‘In Flanders’ Fields’ by Canadian doctor, Lt. Col. John McCrae (1872-1918).

After a first career as an architectural model maker, Paul Cummins studied for a Craft degree, setting up Paul Cummins Ceramics in Derby after graduating in 2010. He has become well known for his large-scale landscape installations of glazed flowers such as those created in the grounds of stately homes Castle Howard, Althorp, Chatsworth and Blenheim, as well as one which formed part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. He is undertaking a PhD at the University of Derby. In early 2012, he began to consider the design of the poppy head and discuss appropriate materials with his supplier, Potclays Ltd. of Etruria, Stoke-on-Trent. Among other materials and equipment, Potclays Ltd. (founded 1932) supplied 497,000 kg. of clay from their mine at Brownhills between Lichfield and Walsall. Each ceramic poppy was painstakingly hand-made under Paul Cummins’ direction. No two are identical, emphasising the individuality of the Fallen. Many were made entirely in Derby but the scale of the ambitious project meant that to meet the deadline, another team was recruited to work at an additional temporary studio set up by Johnson Tiles in their premises in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent. Making about 8,000 poppies there a day, about 400,000 came from the Tunstall studio. In addition, some 97,500 poppies were made at Whichford Pottery, Warwickshire.

In autumn 2013, Historic Royal Palaces commissioned Tom Piper to stage the installation. Piper is a freelance stage designer and was Associate Designer for the Royal Shakespeare Company for ten years to 2014. He created two dramatic metal structures which appeared to pour poppies from a window into the moat (the ‘Weeping Window’) and splash poppies out of the moat over the entrance to the Tower (the ‘Wave’). Following a UK tour until 2018, these two structures will go to the Imperial War Museum (London and Manchester). Paul Cummins and Tom Piper were both made MBEs in the 2015 New Year Honours. The extraordinary impact of ‘Blood Swept Lands…’ derived from its colour, overall form and spectacle, as well as the vast fluid scale which increased as poppies were ‘planted’. There were about five million visitors in all, including members of the royal family. The installation enabled all who saw it to visualise the number of lives lost, to take time for personal, quiet reflection, and to purchase the poppies in commemoration.

Historical context note

One of 888,246 poppies which formed part of the installation 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' in the dry moat of the Tower of London during 2014, the first year of the centenary commemoration of the First World War.

Descriptive line

One of sixteen ceramic poppies from the Tower of London installation 'Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red' by Paul Cummins

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

See object information file C.9 to 24-2015
See also subject information file, Paul Cummins

Production Note

Although made in quantities, each poppy head was hand-made, assembled and glazed. Many were made in Derby, some in Tunstall and the remainder at Whichford Pottery, Warwickshire. Each team under Paul Cummins' overall direction was led by professional ceramicists with the assistance of many voluntary helpers with a ceramic training background. The method of making the ceramic poppies involved slicing the clay blocks with a bow saw, then rolling the slabs of clay to 4mm. thick in an electric rolling machine. Two sizes of 'trefoils' were then hand-stamped from the clay by means of shaped metal cutters. A separate tool was used to cut the correct size of hole in the centre of the 'trefoils'. The smaller 'trefoil' was then placed on the larger such that the petals alternated. The two 'trefoils' were joined and the petals manipulated to form each flower. They are thus all subtly different from each other. The method in Derby was then to leave the shapes to go 'leather hard' on open racks for 24 hours, whereas in Tunstall, they were put in a cabinet dryer for at least 6 hours. This reduced the moisture sufficiently to biscuit fire at 1000°C. The flowers were hand-dipped in glaze and these base and top coats were fired to 1117°C.

Materials

Earthenware

Techniques

Stamped; Formed; Glazed

Subjects depicted

Poppy

Categories

Ceramics; Studio Pottery

Collection

Ceramics Collection

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