It took 300 people a full year to craft 888,246 individual flowers. All were sprayed red and counted, then the Beefeaters counted them again. This was important, because each individual poppy represented a life lost in the first world war.
Paul Cummins is the artist who took on this project. He says:
One rainy day in 2012, I ducked into my local library for shelter and, for some reason, started looking at wills. I found one written by a woman from Derby who had disguised herself as a man and gone off to fight – and die – in the first world war. She had written her will phonetically, which made it easier for me to read as I’m dyslexic. That was one reason why I connected with it. Another was the phrase: “Blood swept lands and seas of red where angels fear to tread.” It leapt out at me, made me think about the war’s death toll. With a bit of research, I discovered that there had been 888,246 British and Colonial military fatalities.
I decided to represent those deaths through ceramic flowers, something I had first started making at university. Ceramics are transient and fragile, like we are. They feel part of our very humanity – societies have always been carbon-dated by their ceramics and pottery. I considered making roses, which symbolised sacrifice in Victorian times, but I settled on the poppy because of its links to war and rememberance.