Friday, September 8, 2000

What The Leather Archives & Museum Can Do For You

(Leather Life column published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #138, September 8, 2000)

PHOTO: Joseph Bean, Executive Director, Leather Archives & Museum


PHOTO: The Leather Archives & Museum: “Located In Chicago, Serving The World”


I’ve written before about the Leather Archives & Museum. (All together now: “Located In Chicago, Serving The World!” That’s what a leather crowd always yells at the first mention of the words “Leather Archives & Museum.”) But every previous time I’ve written about it I’ve written in the spirit of “What a great concept, let’s all make it happen.” Well, it’s happening, and it’s happening bigger and faster than anyone dared hope. The Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M) has become a multi-faceted, vibrant organization working in many ways to collect, preserve, display and perpetuate the leather community’s unique heritage. The LA&M serves up a feast of leather culture, and you don’t even have to go to Chicago to indulge.

In a speech to the audience at the International Mr. Leather (IML) 2000 contest in Chicago, Executive Director Joseph W. Bean was clearly and happily overwhelmed at how quickly the community has embraced the LA&M. In November, 1995 the archives occupied its first public space, a rented storefront on North Clark Street in Chicago. By 1997 it had already outgrown the space. Bean told the IML audience, “I first dreamed of us owning a building in December, 1997. That was yesterday, barely. I announced the Capital Campaign to buy a building in January, 1998, imagining that it would take you guys ten years to buy us a building. Well, it took you less than a year and a half. You’d think that the geniuses of finance would live on Wall Street. Instead we live on Leather Street, U.S.A.

“Last year [at the 1999 IML contest] I showed you a picture of a building that could be a home for the Archives—this year it’s a reality.”

Bean went on to say that his hope was that the LA&M would be able to make the transition from leather community charity to leather community resource, and this appears to be happening as the LA&M finds news ways to reach out to the worldwide leather community. In addition to the exhibits in the improved display space afforded by the new building, the archives has put together a traveling exhibition of leather community history and memorabilia which has been ricocheting from city to city for some time now. (It was supposed to be in Minneapolis this summer for the Twin Cities Festival of Pride and Minnesota Leather Pride 2000, but the exhibit was lost in transit. It was subsequently found and is now slated for next year’s Pride festival.)

If you have internet access and a web browser, you don’t even need to leave home to enjoy an exhibit from the LA&M. For some time their website ( has presented an online Art Gallery with examples of “the many erotic works the Archives has access to.” Also on the web, The Colors Project has been an ongoing effort to collect and display the patches, banners and logos of the organizations, motorcycle clubs, discussion groups and social clubs that, as the website puts it, “are part of the foundation of the leather community, part of the proof that we ARE a community.”

Much more is on the way; a brand-new website now under construction will feature many more exhibits including a leather history timeline and Q&A, more art exhibits, regularly updated newsletters, online shipping at the Gift Shop, and an e-mail list server (to join the list server, send an e-mail to The new site should be available shortly, so keep checking that URL.

If you’re in Chicago, of course, you can visit the Archives (6418 N. Greenview Avenue, Chicago, IL 60626; 773/761-9200; and see the exhibits in person. The Archives requests that you please call or e-mail in advance to make an appointment; according to Bean, “We can almost always accommodate anyone’s schedule if we hear from them in advance.” The LA&M also occasionally presents classes, lectures and workshops—contact them for details.

The expanded space provided by the new LA&M building means that the Archive’s collection can continue to expand. Bean noted during his IML 2000 speech that the Archives has “gone from representing about nine countries when I spoke to you last year to more than 30 this year. We keep getting letters from people saying, ‘Someone from Ohio wrote to me, I’m here in Morocco, and I thought you’d like this.’ It happens, it happens all the time and it’s because of you. You guys are making them do it.” And, he told the IML audience, “Without you none of it would have ever happened. No government institution, no foundation, no public reservoir of money has been involved. Every penny that has made the Leather Archives & Museum happen has come out of the pockets of leatherfolk.”

Bean noted that while he might wish otherwise, the need for raising funds for the LA&M continues. “We have the building, but that means we have a mortgage. I’m dreaming of paying off the mortgage in 2004. . . . If we pay off the mortgage by the refinance date in August 2004 you, the leather community, will save $813,000 in interest.” He concluded by saying, “That’s worth the effort. Make the effort.”

What You Can Do for the Leather Archives & Museum (or What You Can Do for the LA&M)

There are many ways you can contribute to the LA&M:

• You can contribute financially by becoming a member or by making a donation to either the operating fund or Capital Campaign.

• You can contribute your time and talents by volunteering to work in the collections or to do administrative work. The Archive’s Vacationing Volunteer program gives you a chance to do this even if you don’t live in the Chicago area. In some cases you can even work from your home by computer or otherwise.

• You can expand the LA&M’s collection and knowledge base by helping to research the histories of local clubs and organizations or by collecting the colors (logos, patches, etc.) of those clubs.

• Be aware of the leather history around you. Help the LA&M properly record and preserve leather history by identifying individuals who should be interviewed and by discovering leather holdings and estates in your area that should be collected and preserved.

• By making a will or adding a codicil to your will, you can ensure that your leather-related items, perhaps some of your money from insurance or other holdings, and even saleable assets such as real estate are donated to the LA&M. According to LA&M Executive Director Joseph W. Bean, “People can name the LA&M [as a beneficiary] in their life insurance policies or pick up a separate, often very inexpensive, life insurance policy just to provide something for the LA&M that can be many times larger as a gift than it will ever be as premiums.” Donations to a 501.c.3 charity like the LA&M can be very useful in estate planning; contact the Archives for more information.

Upcoming Leather Events (for Calendar section)

Atons Leather/Levi Night
Saturday evening, Sept. 9, 7 pm, It’s Greek to Me (626 W. Lake St., Minneapolis)
Presented by the Atons, open to all. Reservations are not necessary this month—just show up. Drinks at 7 pm in the bar, dinner at 7:30 pm in the downstairs banquet room. Visit the club’s website at or call the Atons HotLine for more information.

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