We love Etsy, it’s filled with handmade joy. We’ve been allowed to rummage through their blog archives and share our findings with you. This month’s article is about a terrific project, the AIDS quilt.
A quilt is often shorthand for old-fashioned values: a cozy home, generational connections, handmade love. That’s why, in 1985, gay rights activist Cleve Jones saw it as the perfect vehicle for remembering those who had died of AIDS. When the disease appeared in the United States, it was considered mysterious and shameful, an untreatable illness thought to be passed only between gay men. The toll AIDS took on the gay community was swift and mighty, and as Jones saw friends and neighbors die, he worried that shame would keep them from being openly remembered.
At a rally honoring slain San Francisco supervisor Harvey Milk, cardboard placards posted on a a wall with the names of those lost to AIDS reminded Jones of a quilt. In 1986, he made the first panel of the AIDS Memorial Quilt to honor his friend, Marvin Feldman, and encouraged others to do the same, subverting the time-honored form into visual evidence that individuals who led “nontraditional” lives were well-loved by their friends, family, and community.
The project grew, and in 1987, the NAMES Project Foundation was formed to support the growing quilt, increase awareness of AIDS and HIV, and raise funds for community-based AIDS service organizations. In 1987, the AIDS Memorial Quilt’s 1,920 panels went on display on Washington’s National Mall.