Friday, September 12, 1997

“They Paved The Leather Roads We Walk On Now”: Preserving Our Leather History

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #60, September 12, 1997)

Where did leather come from? How did the leather community evolve? If you’ve ever wondered about that, there is an establishment in Chicago that can enlighten you. The Leather Archives and Museum is devoted to collecting, preserving and displaying our heritage. The 1997 International Mr. Leather souvenir booklet featured an article on the Leather Archives and Museum, from which I quote with permission:

“The Leather/SM/Fetish community as we know it dates from at least the early 1940’s, although many aspects of it date from hundreds or thousands of years earlier. But these aspects of our lifestyles have always been hidden from public view. They have not been written about with any real candor. Information about them has not been preserved in libraries and the artifacts of our existence have not been gathered into museums.

“New members of a sexual minority cannot go to the family attic and find Uncle Henry’s horde of Rigid Bondage Roster, Aunt Viola’s tit clamp collection or the home movies of grandma and grandpa having an absolutely wonderful experience with bondage and corsetry! The items of significance in our sexual lifestyle are not added to the biological family’s collection of treasured remembrances. Instead they are consigned to dumpsters and trash cans, either by our own anxieties or by our survivors’ disinterest or outright revulsion.

“Every generation of leathermen and leatherwomen has had to reinvent itself or base its community knowledge on the remembrances of living individuals. The Leather Archives and Museum is dedicated to preserving a record of our lifestyle, our communities, our achievements and our history for present and future generations.

“In 1992, Chuck Renslow (creator of our nation’s first leather bar, Chicago’s Gold Coast, and the Executive Producer of the International Mr. Leather Contest) asked several leatherman and women to join him in forming the Leather Archives and Museum. In 1993, LA&M presented its first exhibition of leather artifacts in a conference room at the Congress Hotel during the International Mr. Leather weekend. These exhibits were repeated in 1994 and 1995.

“In November of 1996, the LA&M moved into new headquarters at 5007 North Clark Street and opened its first permanent public exhibit space. The new space also houses the archival and research collections and allowed them to be accessible to serious students, who immediately came to use them from institutions ranging from the Chicago Art Institute to the Kinsey Institute for Sexual Research at Indiana University.”

During the recent International Mr. Leather contest, International Ms. Leather 1996 Jill Carter spoke from the stage at the Congress Theater about the importance of preserving our heritage: “Those individuals paved the leather roads we all walk on now.” She also discussed ways the community can assist the Leather Archives & Museum in its mission:

“See what piece of memorabilia your community can donate to the Leather Archives. Is your club’s history on file for all to read? Are your club colors on record? Has each state or region recorded its traditions to be saved for the future? Has the oral history of your community’s elders been recorded? If the answer is yes . . . does the Archives have a copy? If the answer is no . . . what are you waiting for? An invitation? Well, consider it given!”

The LA&M collects and preserves books, newsletters, magazines, photographs, letters, videotapes, organizational minutes and files, club and business logos, catalogs, posters, fliers, brochures, tickets, programs, club colors, patches, banners, buttons, run pins, original artwork, sketches, sculptures, dungeon/playrooms designs and plans, equipment designs, photos and sketches, and titleholder sashes, medals and trophies. If you are aware of items that should be preserved, do what you can to see that the current owner knows about the Archives and what they are trying to accomplish. The Leather Archives & Museum is a tax-exempt charity under section 501(c)(3) of the Federal Tax Code. This means that all donations to LA&M are deductible from federal income taxes. Memberships are available, and monetary donations can be made above and beyond membership. (The silent auction during the 1997 IML weekend raised over $3200 for the Archives.)

Next time you’re in Chicago, visit them (5007 N. Clark St., Chicago, IL 60640, telephone 773/275-1570). Once you’ve been there, you’ll wear your hide with more pride. In the words of Jill Carter: “Who we are—what we stand for—and where we are going must never again end up as landfill. Our memories are far too precious for that.”

Upcoming Leather Events

One Sunday afternoon, two events. At least they’re within walking distance of each other.

WOOF . . . Welcome to the Community
Sunday, September 14, 6-10 pm, The Saloon
You’ve read about them in this column. Now come welcome the Sober Leather organization to the local leather community. Featured: food, drink specials, fantasies, entertainment, demonstrations, vendor booths, a raffle and maybe a silent auction. $5 at the door.

2nd Annual Leather/Levi “Fun” Raiser
Sunday, September 14, 5-9 pm, Gay 90’s
Hosted by the Rainbow Cloggers. They’ll perform, as will Borderline. Proceeds benefit NSGRA rodeo contestants and royalty at the upcoming Washington D.C. and IGRA Finals rodeos. $10 includes beer and food.

Mark Your Calendar . . .

September 26-28: The Atons 25th Anniversary Run. See the related article in this issue, then register if you haven’t already. For a registration form e-mail, or visit their web site:

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