About Block #2263
This 12’x 12′ square block features eight distinct panels memorializing eight individuals who have died from aids. Each panel is made of a varying soft fabrics and sewn onto the large, 12’x 12′ piece of ivory linen fabric mentioned prior.
This much larger piece of fabric creates a beige border around the entire block, helping to unify and encapsulate the various panels within it. The same border features 16 silver holes (most likely composed of aluminum) evenly placed 3 feet apart from each other around the entire block, creating four holes on each side. The panels featured on this block appear to visually share one characteristic: vibrant colors. Each one features a broad spectrum of colors and completely different structure, emphasizing the imaginary lines separating each block from each other.
Focusing on Frank King’s Panel
The memorial panel I will focus on in this piece is that of Frank King, which is located on block #2263. According to the NAMES Project website, there are 5,956 blocks today, meaning this particular panel was added to the block a short while after the Quilt’s conception in 1985.
Identical to the other panels featured on the Quilt, King’s panel also measures 3′ x 6′– mirroring the dimensions of a casket. Regardless of this similarity, the eccentricity reflected through the many characteristics of this panel help it to break from uniformity with the rest of the panels on the block.
Framework & Foreground
Beginning with the framework of the panel, a 3″ wide strip of floral print fabric outlines the entire panel. This colorful border has tropical flowers and leaves printed across it. Each flower is deep lime green, with pink shadowing in the individual petals to help imitate the depth of a real flower.
Accompanying each flower are two, medium sized, aqua blue leaves. These leaves are a bit smaller than the hot pink and Nairobi blue leaves neighboring it. The pink leaves in particular remind me of the large Hurricane plant, sometimes called the Swiss Cheese plant, that I had in my childhood home in San Juan, Puerto Rico– a very tropical place.
The negative space of this strip cannot go unnoticed, for it is filled with varying organic black and white patterns. It lacks any noticeable pattern, abruptly changing from repeating white dots to thick white lines, unlike the flowers and leaves that repeat in a noticeable pattern. This helps to distinguish the colorful flowers from its monotone background, preventing them from visually “blending.”
Unlike the framework, the fabric choice for the background is much more relaxed. It is a solid raisin color with reflective gold and deep purple “slash-like” lines. There are also small black dots that layer on top of the lines last mentioned. This abstract design of lines and dots covers the entire background of the panel.
The lettering on the panel is comprised of two layers of fabric. The first layer is simply jet black felt, cut a few millimeters bigger than the second layer. This second layer of fabric is a muted light pink, made of a reflective material. Each letter or number is 3.75″ tall and 3-4″ wide, depending on the kind of letter or number it is forming. By layering the light pink fabric with the black felt, the light pink lettering now stands out against the raisin colored background.
An interesting feature of this panel is a customized, light-medium wash, denim jacket. Taking up about a third of the panel, this jacket features a 14 ” x 10″ acorn-shaped patch that is sectioned off into four quadrants.
Starting at the top left quadrant and moving clockwise, the first section is a light blue painting of our solar system. There are three planets, each either purple, red, or green. There are also shooting stars, stationary stars, and swirls, each of which is painted in light blue or metallic blue.
The second section is much simpler. There are two cooking utensils crossed to form an “X”. The two utensils, a whisk and long-neck spoon, are drawn with black paint on a metallic silver background.
The third quadrant rests right below the second, only illustrating a red and purple kite pattern.
The fourth and last quadrant depicts a lime green hippopotamus on a solid, bright red background. Outlined in thin black paint, this hippopotamus is 3″ wide and 1.5″ tall.
Below the acorn-shaped patch is a white scribe featuring King’s last name in gold glittery letters. This is about 8.5″ in length and 2.75″ in height.
Above the acorn-shaped patch is a golden crown, outlined in glittery gold paint and filled with red and blue glitter & metallic paint. Its dimensions are identical to that of the scribe previously mentioned.
Keith Haring’s Debbie Dick
An interesting and explicit characteristic of Frank King’s panel is a print of Keith Haring’s comic-styled Debbie Dick, a safe sex campaign he started in the 80’s. It is printed on a white 9″ x 9″ square of fabric and stitched onto the panel. Within this is a 7.5″ x 7.5″ box framing the Debbie Dick character at the beach. She is 5.75″ tall with red sunglasses and short curly blonde hair. There is a red and white stripped beach ball to her right, as well as scenic beach behind her.
The Letter & Photograph
Accompanying Frank King’s panel is a letter and photograph of Frank King. The details of the letter help us to better understand the significance of the many distinctive characteristics of King’s panel. They also help us understand who Frank King was personally by contextualizing the characteristics of the panel.
Undoubtedly the most informative piece of material culture in this archive, this letter personifies Frank King beyond the quilt. Written by the close friend of King who also submitted the quilt, the letter introduces King to us from the point of view of his closest friend, Rita Horvath. The letter is written in a typewriter font and signed at the end by Horvath in black ink pen.
In the letter, Horvath explains the significance of many of the characteristics of King’s panel, as well as gives us insight into his personal life. For instance, King devoted his life to AIDS research and awareness before he was personally diagnosed with AIDS. In fact, King and Horvath visited the Quilt when it was displayed at the Hudson River in New York in 1988. He was also a part of the original Buddy Program group by the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC).
King’s favorite past times included cooking, collecting hippopotamuses, and traveling. The whisk and long-neck spoon painted on the denim jacket is a representation of King’s love for cooking cakes, pastries, and jams– all of which he was known for by his friends. The hippo painted on the same jacket is representative of King’s quirky obsession with collecting hippopotamuses and other niche items.
The most revealing part of the letter comes at the end. “He remade a family for himself in his friends, and loved them, and they loved him. We miss him.” Horvath ends the letter with, “his many, many friends will miss him, and will not forget him. We have lost too many. He was one of a kind.” I find this significant–for there is no mention of King’s family at all in the letter, nor were they involved with the creation or submission of the panel (as evident by Quilt Panel Information Card that accompanied the panel. It is not pictured for it displays sensitive contact information.).
Frank (Verne Francis) King, 1947-1991
This 4″ x 6″ photograph of Frank King was submitted along with the letter described in the prior section.
Dunlap W., David. Quilt Unfolds Painful Story of Aids. The New York Times. 20 June 1988. Accessed 2 February 2018.
Noirmont Gallery, Jerome de. Sex is Life is Sex. The Keith Haring Foundation. Accessed 2 February 2018.