A popular tribute: West Forsyth students construct Memorial Day clay poppies

Published 12:10 am Thursday, May 25, 2023

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CLEMMONS — With Memorial Day approaching, a group of National Art Honor Society students at West Forsyth is firing up a special tribute.

Art teacher Elizabeth Betson’s kiln has been all systems go for the past couple of weeks, as red clay poppy after red clay poppy goes through the firing process.

“My main inspiration behind this, in London, they did a project and made over a million poppies which flowed all over the Tower of London to represent every soldier lost,” Betson said. “They made them with clay. We actually watched a video in one of our meetings to replicate the whole process.”

Thankfully for Betson, the National Art Honor Society students have been all hands on deck because it is a lengthy process with a lofty goal of more than 200 red poppies they plan to deliver to the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9010 on Hampton Roads for Memorial Day Weekend.

“We have been putting clay pieces together, forming the shape, adhering it together by scoring and slipping it and letting them dry, firing them, glazing them and then adhering them to stakes so they can go in the ground,” Betson said. “This is my National Art Honor Society, so it is all extracurricular, which is nice because they are kids who love art and want to give back to the community and learn about how to create art and why art is created.”

To get into the National Art Honor Society, students must: apply, have a certain GPA, a teacher recommendation, and put forth so many hours each year to qualify.

“The minimum requirement to be in it is four hours for the whole year, but some of these kids probably have more than 20 hours in already because they have been working so hard on this project,” Betson said.

Coming from a military family, creating poppies for veterans took on a special meaning for one West Forsyth 10th grader.

“My grandfather grew up in Winston and was drafted into Vietnam,” said Miranda Serviss. “My father grew up in Ohio, and he joined the Marines. He served in the Gulf War in Operation Desert Storm. He joined the Army and served out the rest of his contract in the Army.

“It makes me very proud. I am proud of my family and how they have served. It is a big honor to me. To be able to give back to people who have served, who are other than my family, means a lot to me.”

Upon delivery, Betson plans to display them around the perimeter of the VFW so that the public can see them.

“We think a lot of people forget what Memorial Day is all about and the significance and the symbolism of the poppies. That will hopefully bring people up to say, what is that about, and ask questions or maybe do a little bit of research on it.”

So, why red poppies?

According to the American Legion web page, the poppy flourished in Europe after World War I. Scientists attributed the growth to soils in France and Belgium becoming enriched with lime from the rubble left by the war. From the dirt and mud grew a beautiful red poppy. The red poppy came to symbolize the blood shed during battle following the publication of the wartime poem “In Flanders Fields.” The poem was written by Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, M.D., while serving on the front lines.


“In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row.
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.