Kent County High School students pose for a photo with local artists and representatives from community organizations who helped bring the Poppies for Peace project to fruition.
CHESTERTOWN — Local artists, officials, students and community members gathered in Chestertown Tuesday, May 23 for the opening of a new temporary public art exhibit.
In honor of Memorial Day, the Poppies for Peace art installation on the lawn of the R. Clayton Mitchell Jr. Kent County Government Center at 400 High St. in Chestertown evoked the historical Flanders Field and World War I.
The Kent County High School chapter of the National Art Honor Society and teachers Stephanie Spencer and Noel Morris led the Poppies for Peace project that saw students and community members craft 613 ceramic flowers.
"It's just awesome that it grew wings and that it turned into this beautiful display," Spencer said at the May 23 opening. "We are so proud of our students. I'm overjoyed."
Kent County High School junior Elizabeth Bilbrough championed the project since it was first proposed more than a year ago, Spencer said.
Spencer said around 90 students got involved, earning more than 450 service learning hours.
The school forged project partnerships with the Kent Cultural Alliance, Chestertown RiverArts and the Chesapeake Potters Guild. Community members joined local artists and teachers at workshops held throughout the spring to create the poppies.
With Memorial Day around the corner, the 613 red poppies were "planted" on the lawn at 400 High St. May 23 and remained on through the weekend.
"Memorial Day is to remember those who gave their lives in service," said John Schratwieser, director of the Kent Cultural Alliance, at the May 23 opening ceremony. "The poppies are reminiscent of the story of World War I and Flanders Field in Belgium."
The front of 400 High St. served as the stage for the ceremony and the sidewalk along what had once been a school was lined with community members.
There were musical performances, speeches and prayers to mark the occasion.
Teacher Ellsworth Tolliver conducted the Kent County High School Marching Band Chamber Ensemble and H.H. Garnet Elementary School teacher Jodi Bortz led the Tiger Chorus.
The Chester River Chorale, led by Stephanie LaMotte, commemorated the event with a rendition of "In Flanders Field."
The Kent County Commissioners joined the ceremony, with Ron Fithian, president, speaking on behalf of the board.
"What a great way of celebrating and remembering all of the fallen veterans throughout the years who have given us the right to be as free as we are today," Fithian said of the project.
The Rev. Claire Nevin-Field of Episcopal Emmanuel Church and the Rev. Robert "Bobby" Brown of Bethel AME Church, both in Chestertown, offered prayers for peace.
Chris Neiman, manager of the RiverArts Clay Studio, loved the idea of the project from the moment the organization was invited to participate.
"The RiverArts Clay Studio was in a perfect position to help as we had an excess of donated clay and expertise creating promotional materials," Neiman said. "Our local ceramicists were delighted to take part any way they could."
At the May 23 ceremony, Schratwieser thanked everyone who participated in one of the Poppies for Peace workshops and helped create the community-wide project.
Schratwieser also sang the praises of the arts programs and teachers in Kent County Public Schools.
"We at the Kent Cultural Alliance get the great honor of working with all of our fine arts teachers across Kent County Public Schools," Schratwieser said. "They are all extraordinary. They all do beautiful work."
To help support arts programming at the high school, community members can sponsor a ceramic poppy.
Contact Schratwieser at the Kent Cultural Alliance — [email protected]
— for details.