This month, another milestone will be reached in the history of the international leather community, when a ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception takes place to open the new Leather Archives & Museum ( LA&M ) at 6418 N. Greenview in Chicago.
It was back in the early 1990s that the LA&M was first incorporated in the state of Illinois, and a group of enthusiasts began collecting books, magazines, posters, brochures and other materials of historical interest to the leather community. In May 1993, the LA&M held their first membership meeting and opened their first display of collected materials over the International Mr. Leather ( IML ) contest in Chicago. Two other exhibitions took place over IML in 1994 and 1995.
In 1996, with a rapidly growing collection, LA&M needed a home base, where larger, and more permanent, exhibitions could be put on display, and scholars could visit and use the archives, and so it moved into a storefront at 5007 N. Clark.
The following year, writer and publisher, Joseph W. Bean ( ex-managing editor of Drummer magazine and writer of the syndicated column "Leathersex Fairy" ) took over the job of Executive Director of LA&M. He set to work on a series of exhibits, and proposed to the Board of Directors a capital campaign to raise funds to buy a building.
On August 4, 1999, a mortgage on the new building was signed, and the LA&M now has a permanent home in the Rogers Park area. Remarkably, all the money was raised through the efforts of the men and women within the leather community itself, with no support from any government body or foundation.
Along with the annual International Mr. Leather contest, and a long history of motorcycle clubs and leather bars going back to the 1950s, the new permanent home of the LA&Mthe only one of its kind in the worldsecures Chicago's place as the international center of the gay/straight/pansexual Leather/SM community.
The weekend celebrations begin with a ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception at 6:00 p.m. on Thursday Feb. 17, and ends on Sunday, Feb. 20 at 2 p.m., with the Centurion Awards Program. There are also open house hours through Feb. 21. Centurion Awards honorees are: Chuck Renslow as Man of the Century, Cynthia Slater as Woman of the Century. Other honorees: Pat Daley, Larry Townsend, Geoff Mains, Mack McKinnon, Pat Califia, The Eulenspiegel Society, Satyrs Motorcycle Club, GMSMA, Chicago Hellfire Club, Tom of Finland and Tony DeBlase.
The Grand Opening weekend is attracting leathermen and women, gay, straight and pansexual, from all over the country. Current and former titleholders from a wide variety of leather contests are expected to attend, as well as a representative from the Tom of Finland Foundation. There will be shuttles to and from the various weekend events, including the Mr. Cell Block contest, which is part of that bar's Leatherfest Weekend
The 12,500-square-foot LA&M is in the former home of the Greenview Arts Center, and includes a 164-seat theatre, a museum and gallery, an archives, and museum store. The theatre will feature leather workshops, films, theatre, music and other productions starting in June, and will be called The Etienne Performing Arts Center, named for famous Chicago artist and dancer Dom Etienne Orejudos.
The Leather Archives & Museum was created by internationally known leatherman Chuck Renslow, a Chicago businessman who ran one of Chicago's first leather bars, the Gold Coast, in 1958. Renslow is also the founder and executive director of International Mr. Leather, which brings thousands of visitors to Chicago each Memorial Day Weekend. Renslow is also the owner of Man's Country, Chicago Eagle, and other businesses in the gay community, and has been inducted into the city's Gay and Lesbian Hall of Fame.
The Archives is a 501 ( c ) 3 non-profit organization, with a board of directors from around the country. Renslow is president of the board. Anthony DeBlase, Ph.D., a former Chicagoan who created the black-white-blue-and-red flag which is the symbol of the international leather community, is vice president of the board. He lives in Oregon. Other board members are from West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Florida, California and New York.