As this is being written, Leatherfolk from all over North America and perhaps other continents have descended on Chicago's North Side to celebrate the 25th Anniversary of the Leather Archives & Museum. Those who have played major roles in building and causing it to grow are there. Members of the Chicago Hellfire Club are back from hosting Inferno, known as Summer Camp to those in the know as well as those wanting to learn more.
Those new to the Leather Archives are seeing a Museum that is refined and polished, not something that is dusty and haphazard. One cannot help but feel pride well up inside them as they partake in the magnificence of the Leather Archives and Museum.
By Adam W. Hart
The Leather Archives & Museum is hosting its 25th Anniversary Weekend, September 16- 18 in Chicago, IL.
Plans for the Museum's 25th Anniversary Weekend include numerous receptions, educational programming, a walking tour, a banquet dinner, after parties and, of course, tours of the Museum itself.
Started in 1991 by Chuck Renslow, the Leather Archives & Museum was originally located at 5007 North Clark Street. The museum later moved to 6418 North Greenview Avenue in 1999, where it has operated ever since.
"I never thought when Tony DeBlase and I started the LA&M, it would have such great community support,” says Renslow, who is the current President of the Museum's Board of Directors. “Before the Leather Archives & Museum, most of our history was going into dumpsters. Now our history is being saved worldwide."
LA&M Executive Director Rick Storer agrees, adding, "Celebrating 25 Years of Leather history is really a testament to the Leather/BDSM/kink/fetish community's passion for their history. They recognize the importance of keeping their legacy safe and want to make
sure it's available to the world."
The Leather Archives & Museum houses artifacts, art, clothing, research materials and historical exhibits devoted to Leather/BDSM/kink/fetish communities across a wide spectrum. A non-lending library is onsite, offering non-fiction, fiction, pulp fiction, art books, comic books/graphic novels and more. LA&M's facility also includes a 164-seat auditorium which is used for public/private events and educational/entertainment programs. As part of the museum's outreach and programming, LA&M hosts events ranging
from scholarly lectures to kinky/foreign film festivals, and the museum offers the auditorium to local community groups for use throughout the year.
"The LA&M is a grassroots institution," says Storer. “2016 signifies 25 years of people coming together behind a cause. The Leather Archives celebrates this year because thousands of people have said, 'My history and my legacy is important to me'...and then did something about it."
LA&M's Archivist/Collections Librarian Jakob VanLammeren says, “Celebrating 25 years of Leather history at the LA&M means community members, museum visitors, researchers, and scholars alike can experience the primary source materials that document how Leather communities have radicalized sexuality throughout history.” The Museum 's archived materials – not normally on public display – are made available, by appointment,
to researchers and scholars visiting the LA&M.
By Dave Rhodes
I remember from the beginning the planning of the Leather Archives & Museum - phone calls from Chuck Renslow, E-mails to him and Tony DeBlase who was the publisher of Drummer Magazine at the time, the level of excitement in the entire Leather community
and the realization that a project like this would not come cheap and knowing for it to succeed would take a long, unwavering commitment to seeing it through. In order to show the entire world who and what we are, every segment
that makes up the greater Leather community was going to need to participate.
The first venue was a storefront next door to the Chicago Eagle and Man's Country, two businesses owned by Chuck Renslow.
My first visit there was a thrill. Early additions included sashes of recent titleholders, club vests, bar posters, pins and patches along with copies of a few publications.
The Leather Journal shipped a huge load to the Archives via UPS ground and the bill was $424 - in 1993. Even today that would be a lot. We sent not only items related to The Leather Journal, but many other artifacts.
When I visited several months afterward I was not amused to see only one poster, a pin and a copy of a recent of The Leather Journal was on display. I felt hurt and irrelevant.
What I did not realize at the time was that many others were sending boxes just as I had done. I was not being minimalized, the incoming artifacts was so huge that the place was filling up fast and the bare-bones staff was up to its neck in work. I checked my bruised ego.
It was obvious that the Leather Archives and Museum was going to need a much larger space — and soon.
Joseph Bean was brought on and an announcement that the current space was overrun was brought to everyone's attention at International Mr. Leather.
A campaign to raise funds so that a private space to house what was arriving on a daily basis could be found; it needed to be able to house contributions in the future.
Many were stunned to see just how successful the Leather Archives was, and more so when the fundraising goal was reached. It was a huge amount of money and the community had never been asked for such a sum before.
In my own mind I labeled it the Leather community's Manhattan Project — It was going to take a lot from each and everyone of us and it was so needed.
There are many factors which help define a community or a culture — a preservation of its history is one of them.
Not only was this huge collection going to give us something that we could enjoy seeing at IML every year, it was going to tell the world about us in our own words. What the world would see would be defined by us, not by others who have different and not-so-friendy motives in many cases.
To promote the Leather Archives visibility, to help raise the huge amoint of money needed and to convince people to continue adding to the collection Joseph Bean created the catch phrase, "Located in Chicago and serving the world." The jingle caught on in a big way; so much so that it even became a question asked by judges during interviews at Leather contests.
One of my proudest moments with The Leather Journal was when we held the Pantheon of Leather Awards and International Mr. and Ms Olympus Leather contest on the Leather Archives & Museum stage in February 2002. We almost sold out with 150 of the 164 seats full.
In 2004 the mortgage for the North Greenview Avenue location was torched by Chuck Renslow during the Pantheon of Leather Awards. It was an honor for this celebration of success to have occurred during our event.
There has been so many success stories surrounding the Leather Archives & Museum and there should be.
A few years later Joseph Bean retired from the Leather Archives and Rick Storer became the executive director. The growth under Storer has been steady. Traveling exhibits are making their way around the continent.
Leatherfolk who cannot make it to Chicago are at least getting eyes-on glimpses of what the Leather Archives has accumulated for them.
The Leather Archives is online so anyone with a computer and/or smart phone can see some of it and be informed.
Other events are renting out the Etienne Theater and monthly programs are held regularly. Special short-term exhibits are the norm.
The question is, when will it be time to obtain a much larger space? Will it need to be an entire facility or will it continue to be North Greenview location with a satellite venue.
Above all, the Leather Archives & Museum provides a unique, safe space in which visitors can learn about the history and societal context of Leather/kink/BDSM/fetish communities.
"That the LA&M provides such a space for the community is important, says Board of Directors Vice President and volunteer Christina Court. “Its archives, library, Museum and traveling exhibits serve as a reminder that we have not only existed for quite some time, but that we continue to thrive, evolve, and celebrate with pride who we are as individuals and sexual beings."
For more information visit http://www.leatherarchives.org/anniversary/