“In Flanders Fields the poppies grow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place… “
Every school child around here used to learn that World War I poem, written by a Canadian medical officer in Belgium, just before he succumbed to pneumonia during the war. They also knew that red poppies were the symbol of remembrance for veterans and that Moina Michael was the “Poppy Lady,” who pushed the sale of paper poppies into a world-class fundraiser for disabled veterans. Now, even in Athens, where she went to school at Lucy Cobb Institute and the University of Georgia—where she also taught—Moina Michael is no more remembered than those who sleep in Flanders Fields.
This collective memory loss astounds Stephen Mulqueen, a prolific and energetic New Zealand sculptor who recently visted Athens on a Fulbright Fellowship. He is researching the international movement that has made the poppy into a worldwide symbol, with significant monuments in Belgium, Ireland, England, Canada and other countries. Mulqueen cannot believe that nothing in Athens commemorates Michael, who was born in nearby Good Hope and is buried in a Monroe cemetery. (It’s true that we used to have Moina Michael Auditorium, where Heyward Allen Motors is, and the road to Monroe is named the Moina Michael Highway, but nobody remembers why.)
More than a decade ago, on a visit to a cemetery outside Ypres, Belgium, where New Zealander soldiers were massacred during a World War I battle, Mulqueen noticed the poppies growing and began fashioning brass poppies from WW I and II shell casings. That “epiphany” began his passionate pursuit of the origins of the poppy as a reminder of war and led to his sojourn here in Athens, where the art department lent him a studio while he attempted to re-awaken in our community some understanding of what our once-famous forebear accomplished.
Since the centennial of World War I runs from 2014–2018, Mulqueen believes this is a particularly auspicious time for Athens to rediscover the Poppy Lady and provide an appropriate commemoration that will not only restore to her the recognition she deserves but also will include Athens among the focal points in the international remembrance of The War to End All Wars.
Mulqueen can’t get over the fact that we have lost sight of Michael here.
“On my recent travels to Ireland, UK, Belgium and Canada… the questions I have faced again and again, as I have presented and talked about my practice and research, about the brass cartridge poppies and my homage to the memory of Michael, is, ‘What has happened to her memory? Where is Moina Belle Michael?’”
While he was here, Mulqueen contacted people in Athens who may be able to jumpstart locally a renewed interest in our once-famous citizen of the world, perhaps eventuating in an appropriate memorial.
“My feeling is that the international community will come and engage with great curiosity, with inquiry about her life and contribution,” Mulqueen says. “They will come to her native landscape in ways not seen before.”
For further information you can contact Stephen Mulqueen by email: email@example.com or Athens resident Carole B. Langley: firstname.lastname@example.org (706-353-0690).
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