It was the artistic installation that took the nation’s breath away.
888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each British or colonial serviceman killed in the First World War transformed the Tower of London into a dramatic, commemorative field in 2014. Five million visitors including the Queen came to marvel at ’Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’, the creation of ceramic artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper.
When the Tower of London installation was dismantled, the poppies were sold for £25 each to buyers all over the world in as far flung destinations as Australia and the United States. The response was overwhelming and the initiative raised a stunning £23 million. Most was spent on costs but £9.5 million was donated to veterans’ charities. Three years later, Cummins is embarking on a new project to digitally map the location of the original poppies and unmask their new owners.
Launched by 14-18 Now, the UK’s arts programme for the First World War centenary, ‘Where are the poppies now’, invites the owners of each poppy to pin its location to a digital map ‘and share with others why you bought it and what it means to you’. By collating the personal stories behind the poppies, the project hopes to create an ‘invaluable archive for future generations’.
Cummins hopes that by digitally reuniting the poppies he will gain an insight into how people identified with their poppy. Initially concerned that ‘Blood Swept Lands’ might trivialise the memories of those who fell in battle, Cummins explained that the positive response to his project ‘opened [his] eyes to the understanding that it is so important not to dictate to people what they should think about a piece of art’.
10,000 of the original ceramic poppies are still touring Britain in two installations, ‘Wave’ and ‘Weeping Window’. They will be donated to the Imperial War Museum in London and Manchester in 2018. You can view Cummins’ interactive poppy map here.