300-piece poppy sculpture honours Sarnia’s fallen

Ceramic poppies fired in a kiln at Lambton College. Submitted Photo

Cathy Dobson

It’s unique. It’s creative.  And it respectfully commemorates every Sarnian who gave his life in service to Canada.

“I think that’s really special,” said Jim Burgess, president of Royal Canadian Legion, Branch 62. “We are thrilled with it.”

Burgess was at the Lawrence House Centre for the Arts last week when a group of local potters completed the Canada 150 Poppy Project, which will

Royal Canadian Legion Branch 62 President Jim Burgess looks on as local potters assemble their Remembrance Day project at The Lawrence House. From left are: Karen McClughan, Pauline Anderson and Brid Lachapelle.
Cathy Dobson

be on display during the month of November.

Three hundred ceramic poppies, big and small, are arranged near the art centre’s grand stairway.  They cascade from a three-foot garden fountain in a stream of red. Each poppy represents a Sarnia-Lambton resident who died between 1899 and 2014 in The Boer War, First World War, Second World War, Korean War and the War in Afghanistan.

The names of the 300 lost soldiers were compiled by the Sarnia War Remembrance Project and published as a list over four pages in a special edition of the Sarnia Journal last year called Sarnia at War.

That edition of the paper inspired the potters’ installation, said Pauline Anderson, the local woman who came up with the idea.

“I had read about the project in the UK when hundreds of thousands of ceramic poppies representing the bloodshed (of the First World War) were planted at the Tower of London,” she said.  “When I saw the 300 names in the Sarnia Journal, I thought, this is doable for us.”

She worked with about 18 local potters to create the 300 poppies, starting in early summer in conjunction with the Lambton College ceramics department.

The college contributed reclaimed clay – remixed with water to be reshaped into poppies. The school also allowed the women to use its kilns.

Some 250 smaller ceramic poppies and 50 larger ones were formed, fired, glazed in red and fired again.

A steel stem was attached and Anderson’s own backyard fountain shapes the centre of the sculpture.

The display is accompanied by a list of the names of each soldier commemorated.

“You can see the names and most still have relatives in town who can come to take a look,” said Burgess. “I really like that.”

The UK project was created in 2014 when Paul Cummins made 888,246 flowers as a tribute to every life lost by the British or colonial forces in The Great War. It was called Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red and it was a visual powerhouse that went viral.

Though much smaller, The Canada 150 Poppy Project is a beautiful memorial for Remembrance Day, Burgess said.

The Lawrence House will open early at 10 a.m. on Nov. 11 so the public can enjoy the ceramic display on Remembrance Day.

The potters have offered the sculpture to the Legion after November. Burgess said it will be prominently displayed at the Legion Hall on Front Street, and it’s possible the poppies will be used for fundraising later.

“My vision has come together,” said Anderson, who retired as deputy director at Sarnia Transit in 2011.

Pottery has become her new vocation, she said.  “It’s my passion and I think this project looks pretty awesome.”

IT’S FIRST FRIDAY!

There’s a ton of art, music, food and special events planned for the Nov. 3 First Friday in downtown Sarnia.

You might want to check out the twice-annual Art Attack at The Story, 179 Christina St. N. This time, it features 16 local artists who will create art and raffle it off to support Art Walk.

The Lawrence House is also featuring the annual Wrap It Up gift sale and baroque lutist Evan Plommer.

For more, be sure to check out www.sarniafirstfriday.com.

The Arts Journal celebrates Sarnia’s cultural life.  Send your ideas to cathy.dobson@thesarniajournal.ca or call 226-932-0985.