IAGSDC Memorial Panel

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Gene Boemer signing the panel

IAGSDC Memorial Panel [1]
by Peter G. Barbour, Golden State Squares

San Francisco, CA - In a Sunday morning telephone interview (January 8, 1995), Freeman Stamper told of his latest project — the International Association of Gay Square Dance Clubs first memorial panel. Freeman, who has been dancing with Western Star Dancers since 1983, came up with the idea for the panel a week before the 1994 IAGSDC Convention in Washington, D.C. He answered the growing dilemma of what to do with the badges of our deceased dancers with his keen logic: “Why don’t we collect them all? We’ll create a little square dance Heaven here on Earth.”

By providing Gene Boemer, an artist currently living in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, with blank canvas and the details of his brainchild, the humble project was started. An unframed artist’s canvas measuring six feet by three feet soon became a glorious field of gold with six interlocked rainbow squares and two words: ‘In Memorium’. Rainbow colors of the gay flag, interlocked squares representing the lasting bonds of friendship, and the open-ended chain representing the ability to add and grow are all parts of the symbolism incorporated into the design of the panel which shares elements of the IAGSDC banner Freeman helped create in 1983. The simplest of supplies were used in the panel’s creation: Gold enamel spray paint, tempera paints and a black felt marker all protected with a clear acrylic spray. Upon careful inspection of the artwork, one notices that both Freeman and Gene have signed the panel. The focus of the panel is not on the basic supplies used in its creation or the sophisticated symbolism but the badges it was designed to carry — the badges of square dancers who have passed away due to AIDS or other illnesses.

Freeman prefers to include original badges of dancers as they are complete with the spirit and life of the loved one. They have all file nicks and scratches, the stickers, dangles and even the lost rhinestones the badge got as it traveled with the loved one. The badges have a life and spirit all their own. “This panel is a catharsis project,” he states, “a place to put these badges and create a sense of continuation in the life of the loved ones who have danced with us.” The project attempts to create a bit of order out of the awkwardness and disorder of badges without dancers. Occasionally, the original badge is not available and a replacement is created. These badges have an equal standing on the panel and are welcome additions.

Badges are simply pinned to the panel in a random location. There is no geographic or club structure designated and he notes, “The badges can be removed without damage if they are ever needed for any unforeseen reason.” Pinning has been done by Freeman himself, surviving lovers, parents and club officers. He has purposefully not created any formal pinning ceremony. This allows those still dealing with their grief to be more comfortable in the extremely personal and moving experience of pinning a badge to the panel. Foggy City Dancers arranged to have the panel at their November 1994 anniversary dance and made additions to the panel during the dance. Freeman is available to discuss and coordinate any special arrangements individuals may have. The next scheduled viewing is at the 12th annual IAGSDC Convention to be held May 26 - 29, 1995 in Chicago, IL. He welcomes clubs and individuals to use that time to make additions to the panel.

The pane! has not been copyrighted, but Freeman requests that he retain rights to the original idea for the panel. The panel has the same physical dimensions as a Names Project quilt panel but this memorial panel is not intended for inclusion in the quilt. He envisions additional panels created by regional clubs to add to this initial work. He also sees this project helping to break down barriers between the gay community and the straight square dance community. Both groups must deal with the eventual reality of dancers leaving us. The panel is another example of the many fabric representations of club identity. Just consider the club banners, flags, shirts and dresses and it becomes clear how well this panel fits into the established symbolism of the square dance community.

Freeman is currently trying to correct a misspelling on the panel. With only two words, the chances of a typo were slim, yet the grammatically correct phrase is: ‘In Memoriam’. He is also working on an improved method of displaying the canvas panel and protecting it during transportation. Freeman Stamper can be reached at (415) 550- 8056.



  1. SquareUpǃ (Albuquerque, NM) Issue 3, March/April/May 1995, p.8