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A colorful section of the AIDS quilt, featuring names of the deceased
Quilt block 1333 contains panels for eight men, including David Keisacker.

Treasures Gallery: The AIDS Quilt

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This is a guest post by Charles Hosale, an archivist in the American Folklife Center. It also appears in the May-June issue of the Library of Congress Magazine, which is devoted to the June opening the David M. Rubenstein Treasures Gallery.

The AIDS Memorial Quilt, regarded as the largest folk art project ever created, is like a chorus. Individual voices have been stitched together into a monumental whole, but that whole cannot exist without each part.

The quilt is composed of more than 50,000 panels, each one memorializing a life or lives lost to AIDS. Each panel is 3 feet by 6 feet, roughly the size of a human grave. Panels were combined by dedicated volunteers into 12-by-12-foot blocks that are displayed together to form the quilt.

Quilt block 1333 contains panels for eight men. One of those panels was made in 1989 by Steve Horwitz in memory of his partner, David Keisacker. Like other contributors, Horwitz sent photographs and a written memorial for Keisacker to the AIDS Quilt archive, along with the panel. The panel and these documents combine to form a moving glimpse of Horwitz’s and Keisacker’s lives — their submission joins tens of thousands of others to form a beautiful and devastating chorus. The Library’s American Folklife Center has held the quilt’s archival collections since 2019.

Huge blocks of a quilt spread out on the Mall. The Capitol Building stands in the background on a sunny day as people walk on paths between quilt sections.
The AIDS Quilt displayed on the National Mall. Photo: Carol M. Highsmith. Prints and Photographs Division.

Block 1333 is one of the thousands displayed at events across the world, including the displays on the National Mall. While displays continue today, the last full display of the quilt was on the Mall in 1996 — the quilt has grown too large to be displayed there all at once.

These exhibitions starkly show the scale of loss the United States and the world continue to experience. The undeniable magnitude of the quilt and the significance of each story stitched into it celebrate the memory of AIDS victims and demand justice for their suffering.

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