On display at the Armory Art Center in West Palm Beach through Dec. 6 is the exclusive South Florida exhibit of the COVID-19 Memorial Quilt, with 19 panels commemorating people from all over the world as well as two Florida-related panels.
Each panel is made up of an 8-inch-by-8-inch piece of fabric (symbolizing infinity, or a sign of life) cut into squares that will be assembled into a larger 48-inch-square panel.
“The COVID Memorial Quilt is a living memorial to remember all who have died,” creators Madeleine Fugate (pronounced Fu-jay) and her mother, Katherine Fugate, an actor and screenwriter, say. “May they never be forgotten.”
As the AIDS Memorial Quilt came to honor a lost generation of people (especially gay men) who died from HIV-AIDS in the 1980s, so the Fugates hope their COVID-19 quilt will do the same for those who have lost their lives to this virus over the past almost-two years.
What started as a 7th-grade school community action project (and one for which she earned an “A”) for Madeleine Fugate’s history class at The Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, Calif., in April 2020, blossomed into a literal and figurative tapestry of life.
With a theme of “young changemakers in a COVID-19 world,” Madeleine Fugate decided to create a quilt as a way to honor those lives lost after her mom told her she had worked on the AIDS quilt and found it to be “healing and magical.”
“Ultimately,” the very self-possessed 14-year-old, who has not personally lost a friend or family member to the virus, says: “We’d like to get every single person who died remembered. They’re not just a statistic on the news. We want to hear their names and see their faces.”
Her goal is to have the quilt eventually displayed on the National Mall (she’s already written to First Lady Jill Biden), as was the AIDS Quilt, and to have a permanent exhibit at a major museum.
“It’s been very interesting and personally moving to have the Memorial Quilt here, especially during the pandemic,” says Tom Pearson, CEO of the Armory Art Center, who personally contacted the Fugates after seeing them on a morning TV show. “During COVID, many families did not have the opportunity to have closure or have a public service for their loved one.”
“This has been a way they can honor and remember their lost friends and family members,” he says.
“When you see people in the gallery looking at the panels and they stop to chat, many have tears in their eyes,” Pearson says, remembering one local woman who came to see her husband’s square adorned with his picture.
Also leaving a lasting impression on him is the square with a husband and wife who died within two days of each other and seeing the number of young children memorialized who died, as well as the wide cross-section of society to be affected.
“We think it’s an important thing to do for the community – for healing and to be a resource,” says Pearson. “This is part of the Armory’s mission and we work with the VA Medical Center [BraveARTS Program], teens and trauma programs [Art of the Phoenix] and other art therapy programs.”
He notes that the Armory Center is the first venue in the country to exhibit all the panels in one place. A number of panels were previously displayed at the California Science Center and some in the International Quilt Museum at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
The Fugates emphasize that one does not need to have sewing abilities to submit a square; they will create it for you with memorabilia you submit, such as personal effects, a favorite T-shirt, a saying or poem, a signature line, quotes or favorite hobbies.
A number of panels recall celebrities who passed away from the coronavirus, including singers Trini Lopez, Charlie Pride and John Prine; actor Dawn Wells; playwright Terrence McNally; and TV and radio host Larry King.
Madeleine Fugate also consulted with Michael Bongiorni, interim director of the National AIDS Memorial. He said, “Quilts show people care. The tradition of a quilt is very American. It’s a tradition that shows compassion and remembrance. As activists, we can all join together to show love in a time of darkness.”
For Madeleine Fugate, who hopes one day to go to college and study the arts and loves to draw and read fantasy novels, the squares that are most memorable to her are of other children, similar in age to her. Her classmates are proud of her, she says, with many of them donating time and fabric, as is her mom, who is in charge of maintaining the website.
The Fugates say their biggest challenge is reaching families that have lost someone.
“Despite the national media coverage [including the New York Times] we’d still like to reach more people,” says Katherine Fugate. “This is an ongoing project. There is no deadline. This may go on for decades.”
“Our goal is to remember everyone whose life is lost due to COVID-19,” Katherine Fugate says. “Every single one of them.”
With current numbers of deaths in the U.S. trending upwards of 750,000, this could become their life’s raison d’être.
On the day they spoke to Palm Beach ArtsPaper, the Fugates had received 14 new submissions for which they will create a memorial square with the help of a team of student volunteers.
“It’s time-consuming,” says Katherine Fugate. “We have to print them out, put them in binders, upload them to the website, etc.”
“But, it’s humbling. It reminds you of what matters in life,” says Katherine, who instilled a social conscience in her daughter from a young age. “When Madeleine would say ‘someone’ should do something, I would always say, but you are someone.”
“Madeleine took this to heart,” she says.
Katherine Fugate remembers the opening ceremony on September 10 at the Armory Art Center.
“There were almost 100 people waiting to meet Madeleine,” she says. “This was the first time Madeleine saw up-close people’s reactions to her work.”
“I’m proud of her,” she says. “She made good on her promise – got the panels made and got them displayed. These people took a risk when they sent their loved ones’ treasures to a 13-year-old girl whom they never met.”
“At the Armory Center, when the family members viewed the panels she created and hugged her, it was a really emotional moment to witness. Watching a community of people come together to view the panels and hear the names of their loved ones spoken, is pretty profound.”
“There was a lot of magic that night,” says Katherine Fugate.
The exhibit runs through Dec. 6. Visit www.armoryart.org. For information on how to submit a quilt square go to www.covidquilt2020.com.
If you want to participate:
IF YOU MADE A MEMORIAL SQUARE: Please mail 8” x 8” Memorial Squares or any materials for us to finish a Memorial Square for you to:
COVID MEMORIAL QUILT
3940 Laurel Canyon Blvd #443
Studio City, CA 91604
IF YOU WANT US TO MAKE A MEMORIAL SQUARE FOR YOU: Please email a photo, name, dates of life, quotes, and any other information (color choices, hobbies, etc.) to help us choose the fabric for you to: CovidMemorialQuilt@gmail.com