Student Newsroom

Spurlock Museum exhibit remembers Central Illinois AIDS victims


Beth Watkins, the Spurlock Museum's education and publications coordinator, stands in front of a display inside the Sewn in Memory exhibition in Urbana. Watkins said the exhibit was created to show museum guests that epidemics affect real people.

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. -- A new exhibit at University of Illinois’s Spurlock Museum opened this November to honor the 40th anniversary of the first documented case of AIDS. 

The exhibit features 19 fabric panels and 20 names of people who have died of AIDS, all of whom had ties to Central Illinois, said Beth Watkins, the museum’s education and publications coordinator.

The quilt was created to help people remember that every person who died has a story, Watkins said. 

“When you walk through this exhibit, you have to recognize the different names of the people you are seeing because each one of these has a name on it," she said. "So you have to encounter, that was Merrill, that was Paco, that was Mike. They were specific, individual people.”

The panels were created as part of the AIDS Memorial Quilt, a national display in the 1980s, to remember victims of the epidemic. The exhibit shines light on an issue that was overlooked by society when it was happening, Watkins said. 

“There was a real movement (in the 1980s) not to share these stories, not to tell the truth about this disease, and to think of it as being off in a corner, only affecting a very small proportion of the population that nobody cared about,” she said. 

With the quilt, Watkins said, guests at the museum can take a moment to stop and remember.

The exhibit will be open through July of 2022. 

Haley Bickelhaupt is a student journalist with the Illinois Student Newsroom at Illinois Public Media.