The Beauty of Making 888,246 Ceramics By Hand

Last week, we talked about the completion of ‘Blood Swept Land and Seas,’ the installation by Paul Cummins displaying 888,246 ceramic poppies made by hand in honour of fallen soldiers from the First World War. This week, Johnson Tiles from the UK, who assisted in the manufacturing of these poppies, are sharing with us some of their behind-the-scenes insights into the production process that lead to this inspiring creation.

To ensure that the moat surrounding the Tower of London was filled with beautiful ceramic poppies by November 11, tile manufacturer Johnson Tiles and a team of recruited ceramic specialists were brought in. Because the manner of making these poppies was very traditional, the production process required skilled and intensive labour. In total, the Johnson Tiles team created around 400,000 poppies by hand, at a rate of 8,000 poppies per day.

The creation of each poppy started with the processing of clay to make slabs. Flower templates were then stamped from the slabs, with two layers formed into a poppy shape. Each poppy was dried for a minimum of six hours in cabinet dryers, which reduced the moisture enough to fire them in a kiln.

These poppies were ‘biscuit fired’ and then hand-dipped and re-fired to high temperature before being sent to Paul Cummins’ Studio in Derby, where the poppies were hand-finished before being sent to their final location at the Tower of London.

Local veterans from the Stoke-on-Trent branch of the Normandy Veterans Association were able to visit the Johnson Tiles factory in Tunstall, Stoke-on-Trent to meet some of the artists and see the poppy making process in action. In addition, children from the special education school Abbey Hill were also given the opportunity to visit the factory and try out their poppy making skills.

Harry Foster, Specialist Products Manager at Johnson Tiles, said: “We were very honoured to be asked to contribute to this very poignant project. Each and every poppy made is unique, every worker creates each poppy differently with complete individuality, which is wonderful because of what each poppy represents.”

You can find out more about Johnson Tiles here.  And you can follow the progress of this inspiring installation here.