A cross-curricular “Community Awareness” project for Penn Yan Middle Schools seventh grade art and history classes has been inspired by a world famous art installation in Great Britain. Upon the centennial of the First World War in 2014, ceramic artist Paul Cummins created a monumental installation of 888,246 ceramic poppies filling the moat of Tower of London. Called “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red,” the art project commemorated the British and Colonial losses of that war.

In Britain, the use of poppies for remembrance of the fallen is associated with Armistice Day, Nov. 11. It was inspired by the poem “Flanders Field” by Canadian military doctor and artillery commander, Major John McCrae, who wrote it in memory of his friend, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, who had been killed by a German shell during the Second Battle of Ypres in 1915. During the burial, McCrea noticed the poppies growing on the ground disturbed for the graves.

Here in America, the poppy has been adopted for our own Memorial Day to remember the fallen of all wars; and the art and history students combined their learning to create their own version of Cummins idea for the honored dead of Yates County.

The 7th graders, and others who wish to help, will each create their own ceramic poppy, assemble it, and offer it for sale to raise funds for veterans organizations. As part of the project, local veterans came to speak on local and national memorials earlier this year. The poppies will be “sold” for $10 each, and can be personalized with indelible ink for the memory of individual fallen veterans.

The goal was to have every 7th grader make at least one, producing at least 117 poppies, and over $1,100 raised for worthy causes. To date, they have made over 200 poppies.

When finished,there will be a ceremony May 26 at the Memorial in the Courthouse Park involving the 7th graders a few guest speakers. The poppies will be installed there for two weeks in honor of Memorial Day, May 30. After that, they will be put on display in the atrium of the Middle School.

The Poppy Project Committee Members include eighth graders Nicolette Pallar, Jenna Curbeau, Lexi Strong, and McKelvie Jensen, and seventh graders Max Baker, Clarissa Enos, Sydney Moravec, Rylee Bodine, Riley Dallos, Hunter VanHousen, and Trevor Harris.

With the intent of mentoring, being student leaders, and teaching their skills to others, each committee member is coming in during their work periods to teach and help the other artists make their poppies in art class. Once formed, the petals are dried, then the “green ware” is ready to be fired in the kiln. The students then will glaze their work for the second firing to achieve the brilliant orange-red of real poppies. The students will then assemble the poppies using recycled items; coat hangers that have been collected and cut will be the stems, and bottle caps and buttons will help create the center of the poppy and help pull the parts together for stability.

To buy a poppy and give to the veterans, please contact the Poppy Committee via email at lbeach@pycsd.org. The Poppy Project is funded by a $250 grant from the Yates County Arts Council.