Alabama Poppy Project to begin on National Poppy Day; 2,023 poppies to honor the fallen for the fourth year
For the fourth year in a row, local potter, Julianne Hansen and her husband, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Steven Hansen will transform Spillway Park in historic downtown Prattville into a field of ceramic poppies in honor of those who have served our country during their lifetime, but are now no longer living. National Poppy Day falls just a few days before Memorial Day on Friday, May 26 and the event will begin with a brief Opening Ceremonies at 7:15 p.m. which will include a special presentation to the wife of the late Sheriff Joe Sedinger (also a Vietnam Veteran) who passed away last December. Following the presentation, a flag-line made up of several organizations will post colors while a bugler from Bugles Across America will render Taps at sundown.
Earlier in the day the Hansen’s along with several volunteers, will begin to “plant” over two thousand handmade stoneware poppies on steel rods – two thousand twenty-three to be exact.
Around the world, the poppy flower has symbolized the blood that has been spilled in an effort to preserve our freedoms and those who have died while in the service of a country they love. The Alabama Poppy Project is a program inspired by the many individuals who have given so much of their lives to the service of their country. Artist and founder of the event, Julianne Hansen, believes the event is a way to combine art, healing, honoring and remembering in a very reverent and respectful way.
To make each poppy involves over 40 steps from start to finish. Each poppy is cut from slabs of rolled stoneware clay, then formed into a flower shape. In the past, Julianne made every one of the poppies on display, but this year, she brought in reinforcements in waves of volunteers for several “poppy making sessions”. Just like in nature, no flower is identical, so Hansen was keen to keep every poppy made by these enthusiastic and talented volunteers. Once the poppies are formed, they are left to dry, then be passed off to her husband, Steven.
“Steven is the ‘kiln master’ and glaze guru”, she says. “He handles the two kiln firings and glazing that each poppy has to go through prior to completion. He is always 100% supportive of my ideas, no matter how outlandish, and The Poppy Project has been no exception. Steven is very service-minded, so this project fits in perfectly with his military background and commitment to keep the memory of our servicemen and women alive.”
The idea first came to Julianne in 2020 as she began to search for a way to honor those members of the military who are no longer among the living, who made their mark while serving in the armed forces during their lifetimes. “My stepsons, daughter, two sons-in-law, my father, my father-in-law, my uncle, and so many more individuals who aren’t even related to me, have committed a part of their lives to the service of our country, but are no longer living. I wanted to honor them and the sacrifices they made so we can live as we do today.” She had no idea if the art exhibit would even happen in 2020 given the fact that the COVID-19 pandemic basically shut everything down. “There were no Memorial Day events, all had been canceled”, she recalls. “I was going to do this no matter what”. She believed the visual impact of over 1,000 poppies would be a sobering reminder of the millions of individuals who have honorably served their country at some point in their lives – and it was.
The first poppy was placed in honor of Steven’s son, Captain Kyle Steven Hansen, USAF C-17 pilot, who passed away February 8, 2017. “As people began dedicating poppies to their special person, we heard story after story, told by family members, friends and brothers in arms. So many people spoke of very special individuals who made such an impact on so many lives. We laughed, we cried and prayed with those who mourned and remembered these great individuals”.
In preparation for the second year, the Hansen’s decided to not only double the number of poppies, but commemorate the year by making 2021 poppies in the same manner as the year before. This year’s exhibit will represent the current year, with a display of 2023 poppies. A white satin ribbon will be attached to each poppy displaying the name and branch of the individual to whom the flower is dedicated. The website has been enhanced to allow those who sponsor a poppy to have a page dedicated to their honoree. “That is their page,” she says, “their photo and biography are there to continue their legacy and for others to read and remember.” The names of those honored in each year remain on the website, along with their biography pages and photos.
In addition to honoring the fallen, the Hansen’s want to honor Lt. Col. John McCrae who wrote the iconic poem, “In Flanders Fields”. It’s because of this poem written in 1915 that the poppy is used as a symbol of remembrance.
Individuals, organizations and corporations may sponsor a poppy in the name of a loved one or friend for the price of $45 each. After the exhibit closes, the sponsor may claim that poppy to keep as a memento or donate it back to the Poppy Project for use in the following year’s exhibit. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to non-profit organizations who continue to maintain the memory of our fallen heroes, assist the families left behind and provide assistance to organizations dedicated to helping veterans and current servicemen. This year, proceeds will support the following non-profit organizations: Bugles Across America, the Support Committee for the Alabama National Cemetery, the Autauga County Heritage Association and several Wreaths Across America events.
Visit https://alabamapoppyproject.com to purchase a poppy or call (334)301-0336 to sponsor a poppy by phone.
Event dates will run from May 26 – May 31, 2023 at 130 South Court Street – Historic Downtown Prattville, Alabama (Spillway Park)
There will also be a Ribbon Placement: Friday, May 26, 2023 from 4 p.m. – 7 p.m. Opening ceremonies begin on Friday, May 26, 2023 at 7:15 p.m. TAPS: Monday, May 26, 2023 at 7:40 p.m. This event’s admission is Free (No pets, No Smoking).
Visit https://AlabamaPoppyProject.com for sponsorship information. Cost is $45 to sponsor a poppy, which is the yours to keep at the conclusion of the event.