The NAMES Project is a nonprofit organization that was founded in San Francisco, California in the year 1987 by a social activist named Cleve Jones. Its main purpose is to raise awareness in the public of the health crisis of HIV/AIDS (AIDS Memorial Quilt: The NAMES Project). The NAMES Project is the caretaker of The AIDS Memorial Quilt, a 54 ton collection of “blocks” created by the loved ones of those who have died of AIDS. Blocks are made of eight “panels” sewn together. Each panel is a three-by-six-foot section (about the size of a grave) memorializing someone who has died of AIDS. The deceased’s loved ones create the panel, oftentimes decorating it in a way that describes the deceased. A panel’s detail and decoration can vary greatly, from just the name of the person to an array of different images and items sewn onto the fabric.
This page will contain a detailed analysis of Ray Cude’s panel on The Quilt. Cude’s panel is part of Block #5458. Cude lived to be 50 years old, 1942-1992. The first thing one notices about the panel is its distinct halves. The two halves are made apparent by the differing uses of space, images, and colors. Each half will be described in turn, starting with the upper half.
The upper half more closely resembles a collage of various images. The background of the upper half is a collage of many, assorted images, such as patterns, fragments of sheet music, and images of nature. These images are meant to be descriptive of Cude’s life and personality. For example, music was a large part of Cude’s life. He played in several local music groups. In the center of the upper half there is an image of a cross. Within the cross is a collage of images depicting nature, such as flowers and leaves of a tree. Cude was a Christian and regularly attended Church. Directly below the cross is an old photograph with the caption “The Tripple-Aires Trio.” The Tripple-Aires Trio was a musical group with which Ray was associated. Pictured in the photograph is Cude and two other men, all playing musical instruments. There is currently no information on the internet of The Tripple-Aires Trio, so the group was probably just a recreational activity, as opposed to a serious band. To the left of this image is a patch of The Quilt that reads “Tommy Ray 1942-1992.” This may seem confusing at first, considering the name “Tommy Ray” is different from the name “Ray Cude,” which is written on the bottom half of the panel. There are two names used because the two halves were created by two different groups of people. The upper half was created by Cude’s brother and his wife, Les and Gigi respectively. This fact was made apparent by a letter that Gigi Cude wrote to The NAMES Project in 2012, twenty years after Ray’s passing (Cude, 27 July 2012). “Tommy Ray” was a nick name for Ray.
The lower half was probably created by friends and family. This half is significantly different in design. The first thing one notices about the lower half is the solid blue background and more organized use of space. The phrase, “To Thine Own Self Be True” is printed in large black letters in the upper portion of this half. This a quote from William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet. Shakespeare’s character Polonius gives advice to his son, Laertes, before departing for Paris, saying:
“This above all: to thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man/Farewell, my blessing season this in thee!”
(Hamlet, Act-1, Scene-III, 78–82)
The meaning of “To Thine Own Self Be True” likely had a different connotation in Hamlet than it does in modern usage today. Many scholars believe that “True” probably meant “beneficial” in the context of Polonius’s words directed to his son, implying his son should consider his own benefit first. Today, however, people usually associate the term with honesty and/or commitment. A person should be honest with themselves and be committed to their work (Literary Devices). The creators of Cude’s panel probably used the phrase with today’s connotation, meaning Cude was always honest with himself and was committed to what was important to him.
Underneath this phrase is Cude’s name. Directly below the name is another cross, however this one is solid black. This second cross further reinforces the importance of religion in Cude’s life. Surrounding the cross are music notes in black, blue, and white. Again, music played an important role in Cude’s life. In a list of organizations with which Cude was associated, attached on the bottom right side of the panel, several music groups are listed. In addition to music groups, Cude’s church, Northwest Church, is listed along with his place of employment, Security Pacific National Bank. Underneath the list of organizations is a list of friends and family members. Underneath the cross the names “Louise, Jeff, and Adam” are printed. Around Louise’s name there is a pearl necklace sewn onto the panel. It is unclear what the relation is between these people and Cude. In the bottom left hand corner there is black fabric in the shape of cowboy boots and a cowboy hat sewn onto the panel, possibly suggesting an interest in fashion.
Ray Cude’s panel was created in a way that allows a viewer to imagine his life and values. There is a large emphasis placed on Cude’s Christian faith as suggested by the two crosses and his involvement with the music ministry at his church, Northwest Church, which he attended for 35 years. The inclusion of the Shakespeare quote, “To Thine Own Self Be True” suggests that Cude was an honest and determined man. Music was also an important piece of Cude’s life. This is emphasized by the music notes, the photograph of a band with which he played, and the list of numerous musical groups he was a part of for 30 years. He was also loyal to Security Pacific National Bank, his place of employment for 25 years. Overall, Ray Cude lived a life of the Christian faith and values, loved music, and was loved by others.
Along with the panel, there is a letter cataloged under Ray Cude’s name. The letter is addressed to Cynthia (presumably an employee/volunteer at The NAMES Project) and is written by Louise Soto. The letter first thanks Cynthia for her hard work and action towards making the general public more aware of the health crisis of HIV/AIDS. Soto then states that she is “still shocked” by the general public’s “ignorance” of the crisis. She concludes by saying she misses Raudy and her “best friend Ray. (Soto)” Soto signed her name as Louise Soto, but, in parenthesis, includes the name Cude. Louise is probably either Ray’s wife or his sister. Soto’s letter suggests the importance of social activism in raising awareness of the health crisis of HIV/AIDS. When the HIV/AIDS epidemic started dramatically increasing in the 1980s, many people in the United States still did not acknowledge the problem, or think it necessary to provide the needed healthcare to people suffering from the disease. ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) was the public face for AIDS activism in the United States in the 1980s and 1990s. They helped advocate for much of the change of view on the epidemic. After pressure from ACT UP, President Bush passed the President’s Emergency Program for AIDS Relief in 2003, which provided relief to African countries (Royles).
Below is a video from Youtube of Lou Reed playing his song Halloween Parade live in Montreal, Canada in 1989. Reed wrote this song about the inaugural Halloween Parade in Greenwich Village in New York City. It is supposed to be a reminder of the people who would no longer be able to attend because they had died of AIDS.
Lateef, Yasir. “The NAMES Project Foundation.” The Names Project, www.aidsquilt.org/about/the-names-project-foundation. Accessed 15 February 2018.
Reed, Lewis. “Halloween Parade.” Lou Reed. Youtube. 29 October 2015. Accessed 17 February 2018.
Royles, Dan. “AIDS and AIDS Activism.” Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012, philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/aids-and-aids-activism/. Accessed 16 February 2018.
Shakespeare, William, and Cyrus Hoy. Hamlet. New York: W.W. Norton, 1996. Print. 1996. Print.
Soto, Louise. Letter to Cynthia.
“To Thine Own Self Be True.” Literary Devices, literarydevices.net/to-thine-own-self-be-true/. Accessed on 15 February 2018.