Friday, February 28, 1997

The Art of Leather, Part 1

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #46, February 28, 1997)

Throughout human history, societies and cultures have created art as an expression of themselves. Ancient civilizations painted pictures of animals on the walls of caves. History books tell us those paintings were put there to give visual expression to their wishes for good hunting. Thousands of years later, in certain respects not much has changed: we still create and view images of the objects of our desire, as well as scenes of a successful hunt. My partner Ken, who knows art and design (he has taught college-level art classes), wishes to interject at this point that “Nowadays, however, the hunt is for much more interesting meat.” Thank you, Ken.

While cultures may create art in response to certain immediate needs and desires, a culture’s art also represents both a gift to members of other cultures and a legacy to the future. A culture’s art testifies that the culture exists, and that it has the strength and vitality to express itself.

The development of the modern-day leather community is intertwined with the development of the modern-day gay community. [Homosexual culture was forced underground during the period between the two World Wars. But after World War II a few brave souls started to speak out against society’s oppression of homosexuals. At the same time, perhaps as a by-product of the intense male-to-male soldiering situations of World War II, the beginnings of the leather subculture started quietly appearing in major cities. These two movements were destined to “blossom” at the same time: The Stonewall riots in 1969 proclaimed the existence of the gay community as a social institution, and the founding of Drummer Magazine at about the same time proclaimed leathermen as a subset of that community.

]In much the same fashion, early homoerotic art was dominated by the hypermasculine symbolism of the budding leather community. The trailblazing art of George Quaintance was featured in the covertly-gay male physique magazines of the 1950’s. In the Technicolor hues of the era, he painted breathtaking homoerotic scenes populated by beautifully muscular and handsome men: cowboys around a campfire after a storm wringing out their wet clothing; ancient roman baths anachronistically populated by 50’s musclemen; and a vaguely native-American scene with two warriors, impaled with arrows, dying at the feet of another man chained against a wall. This picture caused an outcry from the censors — not because of the gore or elements of bondage, but because of the bare buttocks on the two dying warriors.

To modern-day eyes, Quaintance’s art sometimes seems, well, quaint — in the same way that a Rodgers & Hammerstein musical or an episode of “Father Knows Best” seem to reflect a gentler, more innocent time. [The men, while muscular, were relentlessly pretty and showed no basket at all. They couldn’t — this was the 50’s, after all, and even gay society wasn’t yet ready for that. ]It’s easy to forget how revolutionary and shocking these paintings were at the time, and what a courageous and defiant act it was to create such openly sexual art.

Quaintance died in 1957, and shortly thereafter his mantle was taken up by Tom of Finland, probably the most celebrated leather artist in history. Tom became the first leather-art superstar, and “Tom’s Men” continue to be icons for countless leatherfolk of all genders. The Tom of Finland Foundation oversees his artistic legacy and also seeks to foster emerging leather artists (more about that next issue).

Another emerging leather artist of the time was Dom Orejudos, also known as Etienne. Among his accomplishments were the murals on the walls of Chicago’s Gold Coast, one of the most famous leather bars of all time (which was owned by his partner Chuck Renslow).

Today’s established leather artists include Leon, who inherited (from Etienne) the privilege of drawing the official portrait of each year’s International Mr. Leather; The Hun, whose comic-style drawings often include signs posted in the background which make sly comments on the hot, sweaty action taking place in the foreground; and Gary Van Velsor, whose canvas is a thick pane of glass and whose brush is a sandblaster. His engraved images of nude and clothed torsos, often decorated with harnesses or nipple rings, almost spring to life when displayed on a lighted base. These and other established and emerging leather artists — of all races, genders and orientations — are on display at leather trade fairs and in the pages of magazines such as Drummer, International Leatherman, Bear, Honcho, The Leather Journal, and Eagle.

Today there are enough leather artists out there that last fall the San Francisco Leather Daddies held at leather art auction during Leather Pride Week. Most of the artists were from the west coast, but the invitation was issued to leather artists around the world who wanted to be included in next year’s event. Three local artists who might want to answer that call will be profiled in the next issue.

Upcoming Leather Events

Tank Grand Opening featuring Donnie Russo
Sunday, March 9, 6-10 pm, The Tank at The Saloon
The Saloon’s new Sunday-night Leatherspace kicks off with an appearance by omnipresent porn star Donnie Russo. Enter through the patio gate in back of the bar; leather/levi/skin dress code will be enforced. $5 cover includes drink specials.

Other Upcoming Events

Mark your calendar and watch for upcoming details:

Sunday, March 16: Mr. Minnesota Leather Fundraiser

Sunday, March 23: Ms. Minnesota Leather Fundraiser

Saturday, April 12: Atons Bar Night at the Chicago Eagle

Memorial Day Weekend: International Mr. Leather Contest, Chicago. Make your reservations now — area hotels are either already full or are filling up fast.

Friday, February 14, 1997

Leather Community News

(Published in Lavender Magazine, Issue #45, February 14, 1997)

Congratulations to the Black Guard on their 20th Anniversary!

Welcome to everyone visiting the Twin Cities for Black Frost ’97!

Ms. Minnesota Leather Resigns Title; 1st Runner-Up Accepts: Due to personal reasons Amazon, who won the Ms. Minnesota Leather ’97 title last November, has handed over the title to 1st Runner-Up Aalan Cameron. The change is effective February 4, 1997. Following are excerpts from Ms. Cameron’s letter of acceptance:

“It’s an honor and privilege to represent the Minnesota women’s leather community by accepting this title. I wish to express to Amazon my deepest appreciation and admiration — may you have good fortune in your life’s quest.

“Many of you have already met me at various leather events. I’m sending out this open invitation to clubs and organizations who may need my assistance for events or runs. Please feel free to contact me at (612) 471-8278. I’m extending my time and my services to help. In leather, Aalan Cameron.”

Atons Install New Officers: The Atons of Minneapolis recently kicked off their 25th Anniversary year with their annual new-officer installation banquet. Paul Rozendaal assumes the Presidency; Growler becomes Vice President; Keith Cheetham becomes Secretary; and Jeff Paup, who served as banquet chef for the evening, becomes Treasurer. While at the banquet I also got a chance to view the Aton’s excellent promotional video (a leather club first, as far as I know) for their 25th-Anniversary Run to be held this fall.

New Black Guard Officers: This weekend, the Black Guard of Minneapolis presents Black Frost ’97, their 20th-Anniversary Run. At the Wind-Down Party on Sunday afternoon these new officers will take command: Mike Delorme, President; David Blaszak, Vice President; Scott Darst, Secretary; and Colin Spriestersbach, Treasurer. (See “Upcoming Leather Events” for more details on Black Frost events this weekend.)

New Leather Nights at Saloon and Club Metro: Leather nightlight options in the Twin Cities are expanding again. Club Metro has been pleased with the continuing success of “Thrust,” their final-Friday-of-the-month leather-oriented dance party. So now every Thursday is “Bootblack Leather Nite” from 8 pm to 1 am. A leather dress code is enforced. There’s no cover charge and the atmosphere is relaxed, with different entertainment and surprises every week. Bartenders Vern and Lawrence are serving drink specials including their infamous cocktail, the “leg spreader.”

Meanwhile, on March 9 The Saloon will unveil their Sunday-night leather bar, “The Tank,” with a grand-opening celebration featuring porn star Donnie Russo. (He’ll also be appearing that weekend at Rainbow Road.) “The Tank” will be open Sunday nights only (for now, anyway) from 6 to 10 pm. The only entry will be through the patio gate in back of the bar, and a leather/levi/skin dress code will be enforced. A variety of special events are planned, including visiting celebrities and special fetish nights. A $5 cover will include drink specials.

Upcoming Leather Events

Black Frost ’97
Friday-Sunday, February 14-16
If you’re attending from out of the area, welcome to the Twin Cities. Play safe and has a great time!

Black Frost 20th-Anniversary Show and Party
Saturday, February 15, 7:30 pm, Gay 90’s La Femme Lounge (Doors open 7:15 pm)
Even if you’re not attending the whole run, the Black Guard invite you to the show, open to the general public for the first time. Details are being jealously guarded, but their shows are legendary. $10 admission also covers the after-show party in the country-western upstairs bar at the Gay 90’s.

Black Frost Wind-Down Party
Sunday, February 16, 1:30 pm, Brass Rail
Another run event that’s open to the general public. Presidents of the various assembled clubs will toast each other and the Black Guard’s new officers will be installed.

Post-Wind-Down Celebration and Fundraiser
Sunday, February 16, 5-9 pm, Gay 90’s Mens Room Bar (use side entrance)
A fundraiser for Bob Jansen and the Main Club, as well as a salute to the Black Guard’s 20th Anniversary co-hosted by the Atons of Minneapolis and the Castaways of Milwaukee. Beer, sodas, food, door prizes. $8 at the door ($5 if wearing Black Frost ’97 run pin or black leather boots).

Blood Pinning: SM Play in the Military? (Not Really)

Blood pinning, a covert ritual practiced by members of the U.S. Marines and other branches of the military, suddenly isn’t so covert any more. A media frenzy means that millions of people have now seen the videotape of the blood pinning at Camp LeJeune, and millions more have heard about it. For those who haven’t: a soldier is awarded a medal, but it isn’t pinned to his uniform — it’s literally hammered into his chest with body blows.

While many people have only recently heard about blood pinning recently, it’s not difficult to find former mililtary men acquainted with the practice. I’ve spoken recently to several people who were blood-pinned; one gentleman said the initial blow was so forceful that “it knocked me back about three steps.” The pin was hammered so hard that the two spikes on its back “blasted through my pectoral muscle and were driven into my rib.” He still has two scars on his chest from the experience.

The existence of blood-pinning in the military probably shouldn’t be surprising. Blood-letting and blood-exchange rituals have been practiced for centuries by many different cultures and for many different reasons. “Blood sports” such as those practiced by the — ahem — “cutting edge” of the SM community were part of a performance art presentation at the Walker Art Center a few years ago. And they, too, caused a media uproar. But, in spite of the fact that both blood sports and blood-pinning produce sensational news coverage, there are some important differences.

Blood-pinning, military-style, doesn’t qualify as safe, sane or consensual. Properly-done SM blood sport incorporates hospital-style sterile procedures and implements; for some people a dungeon isn’t complete unless it includes an autoclave. Talk of sterile procedure hasn’t even entered the discussion of blood-pinning ceremonies, however, which removes the practice from both the “safe” and “sane” categories.

Consensuality is the third hallmark of healthy SM, and its connection with blood-pinning is debatable. While men may “consent” to being blood-pinned to the extent that they will stand there and take it, there is still an undercurrent of indirect coercion. Blood-pinning is a way of establishing and proving manhood among peers; in the words of the gentleman quoted above, it is “the ultimate macho I-can-take-anything statement.” A man who declines to participate runs the risk of being seen as a coward by his fellow soldiers.

Conversely, SM blood sport lacks this sort of coercion to participate. One simply does not engage in blood sport, or any other type of SM play, to impress other people. One of the leather/SM culture’s most integral traits is that everyone’s manhood is assumed and accepted. Demonstrations of macho at their best are considered unnecessary, and at their worst are seen as examples of poor taste.

One possible way in which blood-pinning could qualify as valid SM play would be as part of an extended military boot-camp scene. If it is done in this context, though, make sure those pins are sterilized beforehand.