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AIDS Memorial Quilt panels travel West

Laguna Art Museum will display five blocks from the project, which features commemorations and messages to those who've died of the disease.

November 29, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Staff members hold a panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt that will go on display at the Laguna Art Museum.
Staff members hold a panel from the AIDS Memorial Quilt… (Don Leach, Coastline…)

To understand the magnitude of the Laguna Art Museum's display the last weekend of November, don't think of it as five fragments from a project that totals more than 48,000 pieces.

Think of it, instead, as a few life stories that add up to hundreds of years among them.

This fall, for the first time, the museum will display five blocks — 12-by-12-foot segments that contain up to eight panels stitched together — from the AIDS Memorial Quilt, a project that the NAMES Project Foundation launched in 1987 to raise awareness about the disease. Most of the panels, sewn by friends or family, commemorate a specific person who died of AIDS.

Over the past quarter century, the quilt has appeared in full in Washington, D.C., and toured the United States and abroad in smaller increments. But its entire 1.3 million square feet have never been sewn together into one piece, simply because that would be impractical.

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"A lot of times people think that it's one big blanket," said Julie Rhoad, president and chief executive of the NAMES Project Foundation. "But when it's spread out and connected right now, if we have it all laid out at once, it overflows beyond the bounds of the National Mall."

So when Robert Hayden, chairman of the Laguna Art Museum's board of trustees, sought to display part of the project, he had to choose carefully. Using the quilt's online directory, he settled on blocks containing panels that honored artists or were made by museums or Laguna groups.

Two of the blocks show abstract designs: a "healing circle" with rows of hearts surrounding a red one at the bottom of a deep hole, and the word "love" stacked in two tiers of letters with a dedication to Indiana artists who perished from AIDS. Others memorialize specific people with more personal messages.

Those panels will hang on the walls at 307 Cliff Drive during Day With(out) Art, an event held nationwide every Dec. 1 in honor of World AIDS Day. At the Laguna event, which the museum organized with AIDS Services Foundation Orange County, the gay men's chorus MenAlive will perform, while photographer Kurt Weston, who became legally blind because of an AIDS-related condition, will be among the guest speakers.

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