Years ago, Lonnie Payne-Clark lost her life partner, twin brother and brother’s partner to AIDS. To remember them, the 68-year-old Napa, California resident sews a 3ft by 6ft fabric quilt block in their honor. Payne-Clark has used small squares in shades of yellow and green to signify light and life, and he plans to incorporate golden squares in the corners with dates of birth and death.
With this quilt panel, Payne-Clark, a longtime HIV survivor, will join tens of thousands of people who have contributed to the largest community art project in history: the AIDS Memorial Quilt.
The quilt is a living monument to people who have died of AIDS, a syndrome that develops after the progression of HIV, a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. So far, more than 700,000 Americans have died of AIDS and more than 1.1 million people are living with HIV. The disease disproportionately affects men who have sex with men as well as black and Latino communities.
More than 50,000 fabric panels make up the quilt, commemorating more than 105,000 people who died of AIDS-related illnesses. Fabric panels are personal tributes designed and created by relatives, friends and loved ones to honor those they have lost to illness. Fabric squares can be colorful, dark, fun – decorated with stitched hearts, painted portraits, hand-drawn notes, favorite clothes, disco balls, and teddy bears for infants and children. Together, they reflect the human toll of the epidemic.
After shipping to the quilting headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Payne-Clark panel will be sewn into a standard 12 by 12 block to join a memory quilt. Quilt stewards like Payne-Clark, who is a board member of the National AIDS Memorial, say their mission is to help loved ones heal, fight stigma and raise awareness of the epidemic by Classes.
“By creating the signs, I continue to share their stories,” Payne-Clark says of those close to him. “I keep their names and the energy that inhabits their souls alive within me.”
Healing by remembrance
Although the quilt was created decades ago, it remains a dynamic and important symbol in the fight against AIDS. On June 5, for example, Payne-Clark and other volunteers posted 40 signs at the 10-acre National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park, marking 40 years since the first cases of AIDS were reported. .
Each year, selected signs are displayed by partner organizations and businesses, often as part of World AIDS Day on December 1 and Pride Month in June. All of the quilt squares can be viewed online through the National AIDS Memorial’s interactive digital exhibit, where visitors can search for a friend or loved one’s name or browse the squares.