POPPIES: Wave and Weeping Window
BY PAUL CUMMINS ARTIST AND TOM PIPER DESIGNER
July 2015 - December 2018
Weeping Window and Wave were originally presented as the two central sculptural elements of the installation Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red by artist Paul Cummins. Paul envisaged a sea of poppies sweeping around the grounds of the Tower of London, each one symbolising a British and Colonial victim of the conflict. The vision was realised in collaboration with designer Tom Piper, with ceramic poppies—made by hand in Derbyshire and Stoke-on-Trent—arranged into a vast field of bright red that gradually enveloped the Tower’s moat.
Tumbling twenty feet down from a window at the Tower and spiralling up from the moat to create an arch over its gateway, Weeping Window and Wave were dramatic, visually-arresting elements of an act of commemoration that captured the public imagination like no other. Each day, more poppies were planted into the grass surrounding the sculptures until the total number matched the count of 888,246 British and Colonial military fatalities in the First World War. At sunset, the names of the victims of war, nominated by the public, were read out in a ceremony followed by the Last Post.
Over 30,000 people volunteered to take part in planting the poppies, with the final one placed in the ground on Armistice Day, 11 November 2014. With every poppy having been laid down, in line with the original concept, this transient work of art was gradually taken down and the ceramic flowers delivered to the individual members of the public who had purchased them in return for a charitable donation. The exceptions are Wave and Weeping Window, preserved for posterity as large-scale sculptures.
“The idea is that you can see a whole field of poppies that would be transient, like the people that fought – there for a small time and then gone.” Paul Cummins
The poppy was a familiar sight on the battlegrounds of the Western Front during the First World War, where it flourished amidst the devastation of trench warfare. It was adopted as a symbol of remembrance in the wake of a poem entitled ‘In Flanders Fields’ by Canadian soldier John McCrae, which concludes with a demand that the dead be remembered by those at home: ‘If ye break faith with us who die / We shall not sleep, though poppies grow / In Flanders fields.’
At the end of the war, as memorials to the dead sprang up in cities, towns and villages across the country, the poppy became a popular symbol of the public’s commitment to remembering those who had perished in wartime. Artificial replicas of the flower—to be worn through a buttonhole on Armistice Day—were first sold in Britain to raise money for ex-servicemen in 1921, a practice that continues to this day.
To find out more about the history of poppies as a symbol of remembrance browse our list of links to other resources:
- Why we wear poppies on Remembrance Day
- Tower of London Remembers
- Saunders, N J. The Poppy: A History of Conflict, Loss, Remembrance, and Redemption. Oneworld Publications, 2013.