The Poppies: Weeping Window installation on the tower of the Silk Mill Museum Derby has been part of the 14-18 NOW tour. Storge editor Sarah Lay went along to explore the art of remembering.
‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow, Between the crosses, row on row…’
Poppies: Weeping Window has formed the centrepiece of the Derby Remembers programme, a visual spectacle of ceramic poppies cascading from the Silk Mill tower into the yard below. Many of the flower heads were made here in Derby by Paul Cummins, who came up with the original concept and worked with designer Tom Piper on the installation. They originally created the Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red installation at the Tower of London in 2014. A striking visualisation it symbolised the fallen of the Great War as part of the centenary commemoration. It captivated the public, closing the passing of time and bringing the scale of the war viscerally to the fore. Since then the installation has been on a tour of the UK and since 9 June has been on show at the Silk Mill.
It is, without doubt, a stunning and poignant piece of art to behold. The poppy heads are intricate and individual at a close up view but from a distance it gives the effect of blood pouring from the belfry at the top of the tower. This wave of blood, this bursting forth and spill of colour – it is a necessary remembrance of those sent to die for their country, not glorifying war but symbolising the scale of suffering, the endurance of hope. The impact brings to mind not just the conflict it commemorates but raises an internal conflict – the grief of what is lost, the hope in never forgetting, the pleasure and the community of public art against the destruction it represents. It is a reminder that while the First World War was fought far away, in Flanders fields and on less-well known fronts, but the loss and sacrifice was right here in the city and in the Derbyshire countryside too.
The wider season of Derby Remembers events bring the war even closer to Derbyshire as through records and archives it explores the part the place and the people played in the Great War. The Silk Mill, recently rebuilt and known as the Riverside Works, housed two businesses during the war – the grinding of corn and the making of medical supplies. Branded as the ‘home of Egrol’, a custard known for its realistic egg flavour, a burns antiseptic ‘Snowfire’ was also made here. Food and medicine were scarce by 1916 so the factory became integral to the war effort, alongside the commissioning of the Eagle Engine at Rolls-Royce, used to power allied aircraft.
An app provides a digital trail around Derby’s monuments and revealing the stories of the city, bringing the individual and collective effort to life. The City Council said the app, “explains how the very first Zeppelin airship bomb raid on Derby led to the Royal Crown Derby factory producing some rare and interesting porcelain items and how Steve Bloomer, English international footballer, manager and Derby County player, was interred in a prison of war camp in Germany in 1914.” It’s a reminder of the hidden city all around us, the stories that get forgotten over time.
Derby played its part in during World War 1, and has played a significant part in the creation of the art which is now commemorating the event 100 years on. To see the poppies cascading down the tower is not just a breathtaking representation of the sacrifice and hope, but also a homecoming for the art piece as a whole. Linked with the events to discover stories it has become a way of looking back in order to move forward, and of surfacing the individuals lost in the collective memory of such a significant event.
See the Poppies: Weeping Window installation at the Silk Mill in Derby until Sunday 23 July 2017.
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Images: Poppies: Weeping Window on the Silk Mill tower by Peter Darrington / cover image of Poppies: Weeping Window viewed from inside the museum by Sarah Lay.