From Issue 4.2 - Summer 1998

Keeping Leather History Alive

By Liz Highleyman

Be it Old Guard, New Guard or Avant Guard, the leather community's history is well worth preserving. Two major contributors to this effort are the Leather Archives and Museum (LA&M) in Chicago and the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society (GLHS) in San Francisco.

The Leather Archives and Museum

LA&M was established in 1992 by Chuck Renslow. In August 1997, Joseph W. Bean was named LA&M Executive Director.

Although much of the archive's initial collection focused on gay men, LA&M strives to include materials related to all U.S. leather communities regardless of gender, orientation or time period. Bean plans an outreach effort to leather communities in under-represented parts of the country and to poorly represented segments of the community.

LA&M houses a major collection of erotic art, including the work of Dom Orejudos, better known as Etienne. The collections also include over 150 magazine titles, the colors of approximately 60 leather clubs, and a collection of titleholders' sashes. Due to its limited resources, LA&M relies on organizations and individuals to proactively donate materials, for example club records, identified and dated photographs, oral histories, videotapes and films, fliers and posters, and souvenirs of leather events. Bean notes that "What is merely out of date today -- like a flyer for last week's bike run -- is historic later. In the past, there has been little or no retained record of leather lifestyles. Now, with the LA&M on the job, we will not disappear as the time of our lives becomes the history of our time."

There are many ways to help the LA&M. Club members, publishers, businesses and others can put LA&M on their mailing list to receive newsletters, magazines, catalogs, and related items. Individuals can send collected flyers and other ephemera. And people can spend some time in Chicago helping with the collections. Says Bean, "Even if you have a slave or maid or houseboy to dust your house and keep your things in order, you'll have a great time dusting, recording, fixing and helping at the LA&M." LA&M is also seeking monetary donations. In December 1997, the organization launched a Capital Campaign to finance a new building. The Capital Campaign's goal is to collect $500,000. The campaign as already raised over $8,000 and has recorded another $8,000 in pledges. Donors will be recognized with a brass badge on a black leather hide in the new building, reminiscent of pins on a club vest. Founding donors who purchase $500 "bricks" will received additional benefits. The museum offers regular memberships for $30 and voting memberships for $100. All donations are tax deductible.

The Leather Archives and Museum
5007 North Clark Street, Chicago IL 60640
Phone: 773-275-1570
E-mail: jwbean@ix.netcom.com

The Gay and Lesbian Historical Society

Closer to home, the Gay and Lesbian Historical Society (GLHS) also maintains an archive of materials on interest to the leather/SM community, although they are more focused on queer leatherfolk. GLHS also collects a wide variety of artifacts, and is working to record oral histories of significant leather/SM community members.

The GLHS was founded in 1983 by Willie Walker, Bill Camilo, and Greg Pennington. It expanded from a private home to a dedicated office on Market Street. Some of the GLHS collections are housed at the San Francisco Public Library to allow greater public access. The GLHS has always been leather-friendly. According to historian Gayle Rubin, "the GLHS was queer before queer became fashionable." Like the LA&M, the GLHS welcomes donations and memberships are available.

The latest GLHS endeavor is a leather/SM art exhibit entitled "Queer and Kinky Danger: Artists Relating to Leather/SM/Kink." Curated by Greg Pennington, Gayle Rubin, and Phillip Turner, the exhibit features historical and contemporary works from the GLHS archives, private collectors, and participating artists. It includes original art in the form of photographs, paintings, drawings, prints, bar decorations, flyers, magazine and book art, tattoo designs, sculpture, whips and canes and leather clothing. Over 75 artists are represented, including Chuck Arnett, Joseph Bean, Tala Brandeis, Robert Chesley, Mark Chester, Dirk Dykstra, Raelyn Gallina, Dawn Lewis, Michael Manning, Jay Marston, Jill Posener, Anna Rockwell, Michael Rosen. Works range from pieces from the "Golden Age" of San Francisco's leather community in the 1960s and 1970s to pieces by young artists working today.

Gay and Lesbian Historical Society
973 Market Street, Suite 400
Mailing address: P.O. Box 42480, San Francisco, CA 94142
Phone: 415-777-5576
E-mail: glhsnc@aol.com

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Last updated: 7 September 1998