PSD 1: First Contact

Memorializing Larry Downs, Arnie Zane, Eddie, Tom Gauthier, Peter Spa, Gerard Wagner, Queen Helene, and David Summers.

Block #621


This 12’x 12′ square block features eight distinct panels memorializing eight individuals who have died from aids. Each panel is made of a soft fabric and sewn onto a large, 12’x 12′ piece of ivory linen fabric.

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 background color choice for the panels on this particular block is predominantly white, though it appears cream due to them aging. This is because each of these white panels feature some kind of original art work, using the once white background to mimic a canvas. Each one of these panels appeared to use similar mediums in their art work, specifically various colors of paint and jet black ink. Of the six white panels, none of them appeared to be primed for non-fabric paint, a distinction I believe I would be able to see.

A similarity among all of these is the fact that the featured artwork is sectional. By this, I mean that the entire panel was not used for the artwork, rather it is concentrated on a quarter of the panel (or any other measurement), leaving the rest blank or only featuring the name of the loved one.

The top right and top center of the block features the only two panels that used different colors. The top center panel, belonging to Eddie (no last name reported), has a mosaic background of 6″x 6″ burgundy, soft dusty rose, light bubblegum pink, and sapphire blue squares. His name is then sewn in large, cursive lettering across the top left half of the panel.

The top right panel, belonging to Queen Helene, features a black background with black, slightly risen, roses all over it. The roses mimic velvet, only visible because the light reflects solely on the roses. I am not sure what kind of fabric it was, but it was not velvet, only similar to velvet visually.


Although tied by a similar tragedy, each panel exhumes individuality through applying different artistic methods. The holes placed along the border of the block reminds me that this one block is part of an entire quilt of people. This made me wonder, was this block included in the inaugural display of the Quilt on the National Mall in 1987?

After researching on the AIDS Memorial Quilt website, I realized that it actually was! That means this block is at least 30 years old!

Since the panels would be featured in the Quilt as a visual memorial and not as a blanket, I wondered why the panels that were predominantly paintings were not made of canvas fabric instead of fabrics associated with apparel, or at least primed with some kind of Gesso to preserve the piece.

I am by no means an expert, but as an artist who has experimented with different mediums on both primed and un-primed fabrics, I can attest for the value of using the right mediums on their respective materials. Though I am sure acceptable fabric paints were mostly used, I could tell where they were not.

For instance, the bottom right panel for David Summers features a beautiful abstract painting in the top left corner with deep cadmium yellow (one of my favorite colors to paint with) and bright red acrylic paint. Observing closely, I noticed that the acrylic paint was cracking on, what appeared to be, un-primed cotton fabric.

Though this may seem minimal to some, I am sure the loved ones who made the panel did not anticipate this occurring and would have wanted to prevent it.

Regardless of all I have mentioned, it is important to recognize that perhaps the loved ones did not have access to these materials to help preserve the panels, or that they chose not to for any reason. Maybe they wanted the panels to age so that future generations, like me, could see how long the AIDS pandemic has been with us. I for one am a big fan of this idea.

In conclusion, I am excited to revisit the Quilt and view this block again, as well as other blocks. I chose this block in particular because of the artwork featured on it and hope to view more blocks featuring even more artwork.

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