It’s rare that a high-profile public art installation—called to be somber, stately, accessible, and stirring to all people of all tastes—succeeds so thoroughly. Add to this that it’s a modern work of art honoring heroes lost in a 100-year-old conflict with a 900-year-old world-famous landmark as a canvas, and it seems damn-near miraculous.
Kudos to ceramics artist Paul Cummins and his 50 staff and many, many volunteers who brought “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red” to life at the Tower of London to pay tribute to the dead of the Great War. Almost 900,000 bright-red ceramic poppies cascade out of the Tower of London and into its surrounding dry moat creating a truly beautiful and overwhelming sense of just how much was lost. Each poppy, many of them planted individually by a crew of volunteers, represents a British or colonial soldier lost during the war.
The poppies are being created by the ceramic artist Paul Cummins, inspired by a line in the will of a Derbyshire man who joined up in the earliest days of the war and died in Flanders.
“I don’t know his name or where he was buried or anything about him,” Cummins, who found the will among old records in Chesterfield, said. “But this line he wrote, when everyone he knew was dead and everywhere around him was covered in blood, jumped out at me: ‘The blood-swept lands and seas of red, where angels fear to tread.’ I believe he meant the angels to refer to his children.”
Soldiers were encouraged to make simple wills, stored in their pocket books – often with moving last letters to their families – so they could be retrieved with their bodies if the worst happened.
Video of the young royals visiting the Tower of London, here.
The poppies can be purchased, and the response from the public is expected to raise millions for military charities.
‘I’ve been staggered by the response and support from members of the public,’ he said. ‘When I had the idea, I never imagined the reaction would be so overwhelming.
‘I think that it is something everybody can relate to and they feel very personally about.’
The sea of poppies will continue to grow until the 888, 246th one is planted on Nov. 11, Armistice Day. The result is a tribute at once respectful of tradition and perfectly suited to the Instagram age. I am no great scholar of World War I, and as such, I shall not endeavor to Voxplain it to you. But I suspect I am not alone in being inspired to read more thoroughly about it and those who gave their all after seeing this, and that is part of the tribute as well.