Liverpool’s Weeping Window
The Tower of London’s Weeping Window sculpture has transferred to Liverpool, with a poppy representing each of the lives lost in Merseyside during World War One. The art work, on the steps of St George’s Hall, gives visitors a close up look at some of the poppies that attracted international attention in the Blood Swept Seas and Lands of Red sculpture last year…
God Bless Grandad
“A very emotional sight. Well done Liverpool, you’ve done the servicemen proud. God bless for Grandad John Henney who was injured 1917 and returned home and lived till 87 years of age, he was lucky.” Barbara and Paul from Liverpool.
It took art and design students from the Liverpool College of the Performing Arts (LIPA) a week to rebuild the Weeping Window in Liverpool city centre. The Tower of London, where the poppies began life, and Liverpool’s St George’s Hall are very different buildings, with different dimensions. The job required a scaffold structure to be erected, mesh to be hung and a fake pavement to be installed. Sandbags needed to be kept intact and piled in strategic positions; hiding lighting and preventing the public from damaging the fragile structure. And then there were the poppies. Students had to tread carefully with flowers that represented servicemen and womens’ lives and dreams and sacrifices in World War One.
I viewed the poppies at several stages of the Tower of London installation. I saw them as they just started to flow and I saw the incredible sea of them in the final days at the Tower in the lead up to the WW1 centenary. By the end I found the sculpture almost too much to take in. Each poppy was personally planted by a volunteer in memory of the life of a British and Colonial soldier lost during the First World War resulting in a mass of red, representing so much life lost. But at the Tower of London you were always kept at a distance from the ceramic flowers. The window was a long way off, the poppy strewn moat provided a fortified barrier. And then there were the people – almost a dozen deep towards the last few days. It was hard enough to find a way through for a quick photograph.
“My father fought in France and was one of the lucky ones that was rescued from Dunkirk. Both my parents went through world war as children and adults. Sadly they are no longer with us. RIP.” Pauline from Liverpool.
Here the poppies are much more accessible – the installation might be smaller in scale but it is more immediate. You can see the curl of the leaves and reflection of the winter light. You can see the drops of rain long after they have fallen. The flowers are lighter than they look in images or from afar – more similar to the bright red of a child’s balloon than the blood of a battlefield. Where in London the whole sculpture looked dramatic and sweeping, here it looks fragile and precious.
“You can see it quite close up and it is quite an intimate experience,” says Deputy Event Manager Lauren Murphy. She tells me people tend to stay for 10 or 20 minutes reflecting on the art, although many are viewing it for mere seconds in the heavy traffic or on the top deck of the bus. I feel the need to see it from different angles; from high, from down low on the pavement and half way up, leaning against sandbags. Wherever you stand, it demands a moment’s silence.
Lauren says she has no idea how many visitors it will attract (Blood Swept Seas and Lands of Red drew more than five million visitors to the Tower of London) but there’s been a steady stream today. “People have been sharing their memories and how they’ve felt,” she says. “Thinking of friends, family or relatives.”
“So many brave souls. A day to reflect on all our heroes. A wonderful celebration. Thought of in so many ways. RIP.” Janet formerly of Liverpool and now in St Anne’s.
Messages of loss and reflection
A board near the Weeping Window is already full of messages on specially designed cards that people are encouraged to post.
“I brought my daughter here today to show another generation the impact of war. The poppies are a poignant reminder and memorial of World War One. My Great Grandfather’s brother was a soldier in the 1st World War. He died in The Somme. RIP William Sutherland.”
A Liverpool welcome
This is Liverpool so of course there is hospitality. A special café in a marquee provides a rest stop afterwards. And two hundred volunteer ambassadors, from art students to retired people in the community have been trained up to provide help and advice for anyone who needs it.
There were originally 800,000 poppies in the sculpture designed by Tom Roper and made by artist Paul Cummins. Many people around the world now own one of the poppies that filled the dry moat. The Yorkshire Sculpture Park is currently displaying the arch segment called Wave. The Weeping Window where poppies flow down the wall from on high was bought by the Sainsbury family. After it leaves Liverpool it will go on permanent display in one of the country’s two Imperial War Museums. But for now, and until January 17th 2016, it’s in the care of Liverpool. “It’s fantastic to see the people of Liverpool come together like this,” says Lauren.
“Breath taking display. Lovely to have such a display in our city. Remembering those who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom.” Kevin from Liverpool.