By Jack Quach
During the weekend of June 11-12, intricately stitched quilt panels will blanket the grassy lawn of Robin Williams Meadow and the National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Each of the nearly 3,000 panels of the sprawling national community art project features a unique design, commemorating the life and story of someone lost to the AIDS crisis.
The public display, which invites those impacted and supporters from around the world, will feature the largest-sized quilt ever shown in San Francisco. Another significant milestone, the two-day event in June represents 35 years since the first quilt panels gained stitches.
“Being able to bring (the quilt) out in this kind of fashion to mark 35 years since it was created is pretty powerful,” said Kevin Herglotz, chief operating officer of the National AIDS Memorial, the sponsor of the event.
Herglotz, who experienced the loss of loved ones due to AIDS, said that he found leadership within the memorial organization and the quilt as his way of contributing to increased knowledge of AIDS’s continued presence for hundreds of thousands of people across the United States and around the world.
“People are still dying. And this display is a way to raise awareness that the AIDS crisis is not over, that there’s more to be done,” Herglotz said. “And we continue to see a rise and a spike in cases, particularly in communities of color and in the South.” The recent COVID-19 pandemic, he added, brought similar instances of discrimination as those of the AIDS pandemic at its peak.
Each quilt panel measures three feet by six feet — the size of a grave. Several of the original panels will appear in June’s quilt display. These first creations — made during the height of the U.S. HIV/AIDS pandemic — remain important reminders that “the roots of the quilt were a form of activism,” Herglotz said. During the early days of the quilt in the late 20th century, AIDS awareness advocates laid down panels in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C. The millions of visitors to the stories woven into the pieces sparked a nationwide and even worldwide movement to accelerate the awareness of AIDS.
The National AIDS Memorial will offer additional services and activities along with a public viewing of the symbolic and expansive quilt to aid in the commemoration. Throughout the two-day event — which will operate 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on both days — volunteers and the public will read aloud the names of people lost to the AIDS crisis. The reading joins several workshops showcased during the weekend, including panel creation, social media and community service areas. A timeline representation of the panels’ evolution through the decades will also represent an aspect of the historic display.
San Francisco’s upcoming quilt event resulted from a collaboration between 35 nonprofit groups, the National AIDS Memorial, and many volunteers. Herglotz called this eagerness to work together as a community the most heartfelt aspect of the event’s planning.
“You begin to see yourself in the quilt,” Quilt Operations Manager Roddy Williams said. “When you see that connection, you are no longer speaking in terms of otherisms. You realize that HIV/AIDS does affect us all.”
Williams viewed the distinct power of stories and the artwork of the quilt through his leadership in the National Memorial. For many, patch submissions received to become part of the larger quilt record important pieces of family history. Young adults could share the research discovered about their beloved uncle on a hand-stitched piece. Or panels might be 20 years old and only recently has the family been able to share it with the larger network of stories.
“It’s this generational sharing of legacy … that’s the kind of connections we’re hoping to make,” Williams said.
Regarding his hopes for the future, Herglotz emphasized the lasting goal of the AIDS Memorial.
“The hope for the future is we have a cure. That’s what we want to see. We want to get to that point where no more quilts need to be made.”
More information about the memorial quilt and the June display is featured on the National AIDS Memorial website at aidsmemorial.org. Also, volunteers can sign up on the website.
Categories: Golden Gate Park