AIDS Quilts for an Artist and His Partner, Sewn During a New Pandemic

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Lending resonance to the dinosaur iconography, the artist “saw himself as someone who was about to become extinct,” Ms. Carr said in a phone interview. Lined up below the painting are smaller squares, several devoted to his animal imagery. “He was so gentle with animals,” Ms. Vitale noted in a Zoom chat with the other quilters this spring. Ms. Mansion added, “He was from such an abusive family, he took refuge in the woods.” Ms. Carr’s biography details sadistic torture that the artist’s father heaped upon Mr. Wojnarowicz and his siblings; as a child, he escaped not only to nature, but also to the streets of New York.

Dominating Mr. Rauffenbart’s quilt, meanwhile, is his partner’s 1989 canvas “Something from Sleep III (For Tom Rauffenbart),” which had resided at Mr. Rauffenbart’s apartment for decades before it was exhibited in the artist’s 2018 show. Within the silhouetted figure of Mr. Rauffenbart looking into a microscope, we see a rendering of our solar system, the very cosmos within the frame of the lover. Ms. Vitale remembers Mr. Rauffenbart as a man who could find humor in even challenging situations, and who loved to cook — one photo reproduced in his quilt shows him clowning around with a pot on his head, brandishing serving spoon and spatula. Ms. Hourigan describes him as a Renaissance man, with interests in music, theater, food and travel. They all say he was completely devoted to Mr. Wojnarowicz.

Conceived by the gay rights activist Cleve Jones, the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt offered a way for friends and lovers to commemorate people who were often abandoned by their families. Ms. Vitale recalls that some found the news that their children were gay even harder to accept than the fact that they were dying. The Quilt had its first public showing on the National Mall in 1987, when it consisted of just 1,920 panels, each measuring three by six feet, about the size of the average grave. “At the time, I said, ‘This is our Arlington,’” Ms. Carr said, comparing the Quilt to the national military cemetery. It now memorializes more than 94,000 people in 50,000 panels and weighs about 54 tons. (Among those panels is one Mr. Wojnarowicz designed for his onetime lover, longtime friend and enduring mentor, the photographer Peter Hujar, of whom he said, “Everything I made, I made for Peter.”) Mr. Jones wrote of the Quilt in his 2016 book, “When We Rise: My Life in the Movement,” that “It could be therapy, I hoped, for a community that was increasingly paralyzed by grief and rage and powerlessness.” That is proved by the experience of these women, who have found it very moving, and helpful in working through their grief.

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