Years ago, Lonnie Payne-Clark lost his life partner, twin brother and brother's partner to AIDS. To remember them, the 68-year-old Napa, California, resident is sewing a 3-by-6-foot 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 gold squares in the corners with birth and death dates.
With this quilt panel, Payne-Clark, a long-term 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 from 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 from AIDS and over 1.1 million people are living with HIV. The disease disproportionately impacts men who have sex with men as well as Black and Latino communities.
More than 50,000 fabric panels make up the quilt, commemorating upwards of 105,000 people who have died from AIDS-related illnesses. Fabric panels are personal tributes designed and created by relatives, friends and loved ones to honor those they've lost to the disease. The fabric squares can be colorful, somber, funny — decorated with stitched-on hearts, painted portraits, hand-drawn notes, favorite pieces of clothing, disco balls, and teddy bears for infants and children. Together, they reflect the human toll of the epidemic.
After being shipped to the quilt headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area, Payne-Clark's panel will be sewn into a standard 12-by-12 block to join a patchwork of memory. Stewards of the quilt, like Payne-Clark, who is a board member for the National AIDS Memorial, say their mission is to help loved ones heal, combat stigma and raise awareness about the ongoing epidemic.
"By creating panels, I am continuing to share their stories,” Payne-Clark says of his loved ones. “I am keeping their names and the energy that inhabits their souls alive within me.”