Lets talk about the beginning of the 1980’s. Well, in 1981 prince Charles married princess Diana and in 1983 Michael Jackson released the hit thriller, as influential and popular as these events were this isn’t the side of history this post is based on. Instead lets switch gears and focus on this, in 1981 AIDS got recognized by the centers for Disease control and prevention and in 1983 scientist found the virus HIV which causes AIDS. During this time the AIDS epidemic was beginning to spread in the U.S. You must remember in the 80’s HIV and AIDS was thought to only affect homosexuals and did not receive the attention it required. Because the government thought this disease only affected a certain group they did not put funding or awareness for its cause. This resulted in a huge amount of death and fear.
By 1985 many cities were hugely affected by it, one city in particular was San Francisco. A gay rights activist named Cleve Jones along with others decided to create the AIDS Memorial Quilt. The AIDS Memorial Quilts were panels 3 by 6 foot in size (the size of a grave) that were decorated to recognized and honor people who died of AIDS. An average of seven of these panels were sown together to create a block. These panels are an important form of material culture. “Material culture refers to the physical objects, resources, and spaces that people use to define their culture.” (“Material and Non Material.” Cliffnotes.com).
The Material Culture for this primary source description will come from Block number 4161. The quilts are a symbol of each life lost to AIDS, created by the victims loved ones with the purpose of representing their lost one’s life. Each panel is unique and personal which makes it the perfect primary source to use. I will be describing and analyze the panel of the late Ray Underwood in order to understand the significance of the quilt to his life.
Who Was Ray Underwood?:
Ray Mann Underwood was born December, 22, 1953 in Aspen, Colorado. Ray Underwood always exhibited a love and talent for the arts, during his lifetime Ray was a singer, songwriter, actor and poet. He received a scholarship to The Juilliard School, where he studied acting. Underwood went on to appear in TV shows such as Cheers, The Last Resort and Happy Days. He also wrote songs for many musicians including Maurice Jarre, Darrell Brown, Vanessa Williams and Ricky Ian Gordon.
Here is an excerpt of the song “coyote” written by Ray Underwood and composed by Ricky Ian Gordon.
“I understand you coyotes; I understand the song you croon I never did before, before I hungered for his kisses underneath an amber moon Oh how I loathe you, coyotes, and everything you know of me You sing of my demise, that laughing in your eyes turns all my love to bitter mockery Yes, coyotes, you tell of all that I am dreaming of Yes, coyotes, you tell of these fools fool enough to love Laugh on, laugh on you wild coyotes. With angels on you razor backs who tell me not to stay and beckon me away To run the ridges with your frenzied packs No man may own my soul from off this frozen knoll I’ll scream it till I turn that moon to wax!” (thoughts-on-singing.com)
Ray’s panel was created by his mother Rilla and brother Val, along with his panel was a letter from Rilla Underwood. Ray Underwood died January 16, 1993, he was only 39 years old.
Framing and Materials:
The quilt’s border is made of a plain white cotton material. The fabric itself is quite soft, similar to regular cotton pillow cases. However, it is slightly thicker and very opaque. There are no other decorations on this border, the only exception are shiny gold cords on the border of the panels sown on either side of the quilt. The panel has no markers, pens, or pencil markings on it. The majority of the art on this panel is painted onto it aside from the bottom which has several texts and images sown onto it. The paint on this panel weighs it down significantly, it’s weight is similar to that of a large fleece blanket.
The background is composed entirely of a landscape painting.The image begins with a dark, rich violet which form the clouds at the very top of the panel. The clouds on the top right half are lined underneath in a pink toned paint. A light yellow paint shines through a section of a clouds. This acts as a source of light, this yellow turns white as it travels down the panel ending at the tip of a mountain. Beneath the dark clouds is a large are of bright sky blue, the blue is soft and not overpowering but attention grabbing none the less. A light lavender is scatter thought the sky representing smaller clouds.
Below the sky are several grey/dark lavender mountains. Most of the mountains are about the size of a fist, except the mountain slightly of center. This particular mountain is slightly larger are a bit to the left of the panel. The light is resting on it and in its center is a text. Browns and Greens make up valleys and tiny hills pushing the mountain more into the background. The browns die out and the greens are more vivid the further into the foreground you go. Valley and hills are larger closer to the lower middle of the panel.
The hills are lined darker at the top with the illusion of trees. Past the hills is a large area of teal representing water, the teal is more on the blue side. There are no upsets in the water, the teal is even and plain. Past that near the very bottom is the hint of flowers which are covered up by pictures and texts sown into the quilt. Why was this painted on this quilt? What is the significance of it? How does it relate to Ray?
Among the text is a poem by Emily Dickinson entitled “To Fight Aloud Is Very Brave”. The poem speak about how honorable it is to live and struggle in silence. This speak of how strong an individual really is who can struggle within their own minds and face the world without having to demand attention. The stanza shown on the panel is the third and final stanza of the poem. This stanza states the reason not seeking attention and living privately is honarable is because that is the way angels live.
Here is a link to the poem: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/55871/to-fight-aloud-is-very-brave-138
Ray Underwood’s Poetry:
The panel includes two pieces of Ray’s work, one being lyrics to a song he wrote and the other being one of his poems. The lyrics speak on wings and the different forms they come in, it also questions societies views on a hero. Ray asks why a hero must always be strong and extraordinary, also questioning why an ordinary individual cannot be seen as a hero.
The poem speaks of nature and a landscape similar to that of the panel. The tone of the poem is gentle and calming. The poem is about rocks falling. Throughout the poem he lists several reasons that could have caused the rocks to fall.
In 1995 Ray’s mother Rilla Underwood published a book of Ray’s songs and poems entitled “All That Hums.”
The quilt is adorned with several images of Ray Underwood. On the bottom right half of the panel there are a few images of Underwood. The image on the top right shows Underwood hugging the tree in a slight crouching position. The image below it shows Underwood on a beach with a woman, leaning against a rock. The image on the bottom left shows Ray and a woman feeding a kangaroo. The beach and animals are reoccurring themes in his photographs.
Revelations and Reflections:
This panel is a true reflection of all the love and adoration Ray had during his lifetime. Every detail in this quilt was crafted specially to honor his life and his legacy. Through further investigation I was able to learn Underwood’s mother also created the quilt beside his. Rilla requested William “Billy” De’Acutis’ quilt be sown next to Ray’s. Billy’s mom was also invited to the reading of Ray Underwood’s book reading. Who was Billy to Ray? Were they friends?
I was also pleased to learn the nature scene painted on Ray Underwood’s quilt was of The Maroons Bay Area in Aspen Colorado. Ray spent a lot of time there and that is where he wrote the majority of his poems. It seems fitting to commemorate Ray with a image of his favorite place.
“All That Hums.” Google Books,https://books.google.com/books/about/All_that_Hums.html?id=wTxktQAACAAJ
Emily Dickinson. “To Fight Aloud Is Very Brave.” Poetry Foundation, https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/55871/to-fight-aloud-is-very-brave-138
“Material and Non Material.” Cliffnotes.com. https://www.cliffsnotes.com/study-guides/sociology/culture-and-societies/material-and-nonmaterial-culture. accessed. 2/15/2018
“Ray Underwood.” The NAMES Project Foundation. 117 Luckie St, NW Atlanta, Ga 30303
Sarah. “The Art Song, Continued…” http://www.thoughts-on-singing.com/thoughts%2036.htm
” The AIDS Memorial Quilt.” The NAMES Project Foundation,http://www.aidsquilt.org/about/the-aids-memorial-quilt.