9 June – 23 July
The poppies have come home! When Derby artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper created the Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red sculpture at the Tower of London in 2014, the nation took Paul’s ceramic poppies to their hearts. Many of the poppies were created at Paul’s studio in Derby, each representing a British or Colonial life lost in the conflict of the First World War. Many of the 888,246 poppies were sold when the installation was dismantled, but two key features were retained, the Weeping Window and the Wave. Both are touring the country throughout the centenary of the war until November 2018.
Derby’s historic Silk Mill has been chosen as one of the venues to host the Weeping Window installation as it tours the UK.
How does Paul feel now that his iconic creation has come home to Derby? “It’s slightly surreal, for me,” he says, “because the exhibition found a home with everybody and these are the ones who haven’t found a home yet. They represent the un-named soldiers and the people who had nobody to claim them. That’s what these are like for me, the souls of the soldiers who had nobody. Because they are going to lie in Manchester and London at the end of all this, and it took a long time for people to have even a basic grave in the First World War if they weren’t claimed, for me that’s how I’m judging this. My work’s always transient and just goes. These are sort of permanent.”
Paul first came to national attention as one of the artists chosen for the Cultural Olympiad in 2012 before Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red catapulted him to international prominence. “It was after the 2012 Olympics,” Paul explained. “When it ended I came up with the idea for these, so it is all sort of linked.”
Blood Swept Lands moved the nation and became the most photographed subject in 2014. “People didn’t need an explanation of what these were, that was the great thing about them, one flower for one life. Everyone claims them, which is good,” he continued. “Now I feel like some crazy uncle! I’m really happy that they’ve come back here to Derby.”
The tour is organised by 14-18 NOW, one of many projects to bring the legacy of the First World War to life for new generations. “We are taking the installation to 19 places around the UK, which takes us to the end of the First World War centenary, November 2018,” said Jenny Waldmann CBE, Director of 14-18 NOW. It’s going to so many places and it’s lovely to be able to bring out local and regional stories of the First World War. Of course, that war impacted all across the UK.
“It’s been very emotional,” she added. “It’s such a beautiful sculpture and it also brings up memories that are very inter-generational – grandparents talking to grandchildren about their own memories of their parents. Nearly two and a half million have seen it now, around the UK
“Paul Cummins was very keen for it to come back here and so many of the poppies were made here. It is wonderful to bring it back and that’s part of the local resonance of it here. Also, Derby Silk Mill played a role in the First World War, Rolls-Royce, too, as well as the soldiers who came from Derby and the people here who were impacted by war.”
Whilst the concept of Blood Swept Lands was Paul’s, designer Tom Piper was engaged to help create the finished sculpture because of his theatre background. “I was brought on board for the Tower of London because of the scale of the project,” he said. “I looked at the way the installation engaged with the building, the Weeping Window and the Wave, and also the way that it was planted and the use of the volunteers.
“Since then, at every location we do a site visit and look at how best the sculpture might best respond to it. The lovely thing about it is, the idea is fixed, coming from an aperture or window, but what it does thereafter can be developed and adapted for each location. Each one is unique and responds to the location.
“Here we’re coming on the corner of the tower and because this used to be the mill race, where we’re standing, the poppies teeter on the edge of the mill race with is highlighted by the paving stones. Also, a bit like the way that any liquid behaves, it is pouring down and where it hits another wall it splashes and rises up. It is a nice metaphor of the poppy, both as a plant and a blood-like thing.
“It’s been extraordinary, really,” Tom added. “It’s not what we expected when we started. The most amazing thing is that it has adapted to circumstances as it’s gone along. Initially we thought we’d plant the whole lot in 3 weeks at the Tower of London. That became a logistic impossibility. so we had to adapt our ideas. It became a long planting thing which created a momentum around it and allowed 20,000 volunteers to get involved.”
Peter Ireson, Head of Culture and Business Development, Derby City Council said the interest in the poppies coming to Derby has been phenomenal. “As soon as it was announced that we were going to host the Poppies there has been constant interest from within the city, building to a crescendo in the last week with the installation taking place. Looking at it last night, when it was all lit up, it really is stunning to see it here, on the banks of the Derwent and on the iconic Silk Mill tower. It really is something special.”
Tony Butler, Executive Director at Derby Museums, added that the Silk Mill is the ideal place for the poppy installation in Derby. “The Silk Mill is the symbol of making in the city. We have 300 years of manufacturing history in the city that the building exemplifies and making is a really important part of our city’s story. It’s fitting that the poppies that were made here have come back. We are very proud that the Silk Mill has been chosen as a venue. I think everyone in the city will really connect with the sculpture during the time that it’s here.
“There has been a big team involved and one of the driving forces was Pauline Latham MP and we were really pleased to support her. The support was very much cross party.”
Poppies: Weeping Window opened to the public in Derby on 9 June and remains on display until 23 July. It is free to visit and is illuminated after dark.
Please note, photographs in the following gallery are for illustration purposes only and are not for sale or download.