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AIDS Memorial Quilt Turns 25

AIDS Memorial Quilt Turns 25

By Janelle Cahoon, Quiltcentric

The AIDS Memorial Quilt was first conceived during a candlelight march in remembrance of assassinated San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk.  AIDS activist Cleve Jones asked marchers to write on signs the names of loved ones lost to AIDS.  When those signs were taped to the San Francisco Federal Building at the end of the march, it looked to Jones like a huge patchwork quilt.  From that image came the inspiration for the AIDS Memorial Quilt – a way to symbolize, memorialize and celebrate the lives of individuals lost to AIDS, to bring some support and healing to those left behind, and at the same time bring public awareness to the massive numbers being killed by the AIDS pandemic.

Each individual panel measures 3’ by 6’, the size of a grave, and is made and donated by the friends and loved ones of someone who has died of AIDS.  These panels are made using many methods, including patchwork, appliqué, painting and collage.  Materials used go far beyond mere fabric, sometimes including metal and plastic, decorative items like beads, feathers and buttons, and personal items from the deceased including clothing, car keys, stuffed animals and more.  The panels reflect the interests and accomplishments of the person for whom they are made, often with words of love from the makers.

When the individual panels arrive at The NAMES Project Foundation they are assembled together into 12’ x 12’ blocks.

Local displays of the AIDS Memorial Quilt usually show 8 of the 12 x 12 blocks.

The first panel of the quilt was made by Cleve Jones in honor of his friend Marvin Feldman.  The NAMES Project Foundation was formally organized in 1987 and by October of that year, when the AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed on the National Mall in Washington, DC, it had already grown to 1,920 panels.

Today the AIDS Memorial Quilt has grown to over 1.3 million square feet, memorializes more than 94,000 individuals and has been visited by more than 18 million people.  It is regarded as the largest piece of community folk art in the world.  Sadly, it continues to grow as more lives are lost.


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