Leather Archives and Museum Is Founded Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Longtime activist Chuck Renslow founded the first formally organized archival collection of art, artifacts, ephemera, and other materials relating specifically to the history and subculture of the leather lifestyle.

Summary of Event

The Leather Archives and Museum began as an assemblage of the various media artworks of the late graphic artist Arts;of leather culture[leather culture] Dom Orejudos Orejudos, Dom (better known in the erotic-art world as Etienne) Etienne in the possession of his partner, Chicago activist Chuck Renslow. As a longtime member of the leather community at both the local and national levels, owner of the famous Gold Coast bar, and organizer with Orejudos of the International Mr. Leather International Mr. Leather contest Leather contest, International Mr. contest in 1979, Renslow was acutely aware of the devastation being wreaked on this population by the AIDS pandemic and the resultant loss of much historical information on the global and postwar American leather world, as well as its personalities, organizations, and subcultures. [kw]Leather Archives and Museum Is Founded (Aug., 1991) [kw]Archives and Museum Is Founded, Leather (Aug., 1991) [kw]Museum Is Founded, Leather Archives and (Aug., 1991) Leather Archives and Museum Archives;leather subculture [c]Organizations and institutions;Aug., 1991: Leather Archives and Museum Is Founded[2090] [c]Arts;Aug., 1991: Leather Archives and Museum Is Founded[2090] Renslow, Chuck Blase, Anthony De Bean, Joseph

While recognizing the work already done by local and regional gay and lesbian archives and libraries toward retrieval of LGBT histories, Renslow envisioned a separate collection devoted solely to the subculture of leatherfolk, a coherent community not well reflected in existing special libraries on sexuality. Among the leaders of the American and Canadian leather communities who answered his call to form the first board of directors and coordinate various preservation and historical projects was Anthony De Blase, then publisher of Drummer magazine Drummer magazine and prominent writer of S/M fiction (fiction with a theme of sadomasochism), who had designed the blue, black, and red “leather flag” that had quickly become a global symbol of the leather community after its debut in 1989.

The Leather Archives and Museum was formally incorporated in August of 1991 in the state of Illinois, taking as its mission “the compilation, preservation and maintenance” of artifacts and printed and visual media documenting the “leather lifestyle and related lifestyles (including but not limited to the Gay and Lesbian communities), history, archives and memorabilia for historical, educational and research purposes.” The gay community gradually came to know about the archives through publicity in such internationally circulated periodicals as The Leather Journal Leather Journal, The and the dissemination of information through existing networks of regional leather conferences and contests. The archives also had consciousness-raising exhibits at the annual International Mr. Leather competition in Chicago.

In 1996, the archives opened its first storefront space on Clark Street, beginning a period of rapid expansion augmented by the appointment in 1997 of well-known writer and artist Joseph Bean as executive director and the search for a permanent facility. In 1999, the archives found a former synagogue and community theater building on Greenview Avenue near Loyola University in northern Chicago, and the archives started a capital campaign for its purchase; the campaign ended, successfully, in August of 2004. This effort was totally financed by leatherfolk from around the world, who worked together on an unprecedented scale over a period of seven years, with no external funding of any kind.

From its inception, the archives moved to establish professional links within the library and archival professions, both through the personal contacts of staff librarians and formal presentations at the conventions of the American Library Association and the Society for American Archivists. At the national level, in 2000, the Leather Archives joined the Subject Authority Cooperative Program run by the Library of Congress (LOC), which allowed it to propose new headings for the Library of Congress classification system, based upon its own materials. The archives would be able to suggest changes to headings already in use by the LOC.

Although begun with a collection of drawings and paintings, the holdings of the archives quickly diversified into more than twenty-six categories of materials, including organization bylaws, minutes, colors, insignias, and friendship pins, as well as items of clothing and uniforms, artworks (including two spectacular statues from the now-defunct Mineshaft bar in New York City and a collection of leather roses, each made by a different craftsperson). It also includes photographs, event memorabilia, documentary and popular films and videos, books, and magazines, all arranged into a highly distinctive library collection of several thousand volumes.

The oral history collection includes nearly one hundred interviews with leather men and leather women of all orientations and, in some cases, has the only primary biographical source material extant for them. The archives houses also the largest collection in North America of the artwork of Etienne, and its special collections are home to materials from several organizations, among them the International Gay Rodeo Association and the National Leather Association. Use of the collection has been strong from the beginning, ranging from activists to graduate students from the Art Institute of Chicago, Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute, and other schools.


The Leather Archives and Museum, the first formal multimedia collection documenting the histories of GLBT leatherfolk and leather subculture, is a critical resource for researchers and the general public. It is part of a network of lesbian and gay archives around the world. Leather Archives and Museum Archives;leather subculture

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bean, Joseph. “Speech at the Dedication of the Leather Archives and Museum, February 20, 2000.” In Speaking for Our Lives: Historic Speeches and Rhetoric for Gay and Lesbian Rights, 1892-2000. Binghamton, N.Y.: Harrington Park Press, 2004.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Carmichael, James V., Jr. “’They Sure Got to Prove It on Me’: Millennial Thoughts on Gay Archives, Gay Biography, and Gay. . . .” Libraries & Culture 35, no. 1 (Winter, 2000).
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Leather Archives & Museum. http://www.leather archives.org.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">“Leather Archives Burns Mortgage.” Leather Journal 174 (September, 2004).
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ridinger, Robert. “Things Visible and Invisible: The Leather Archives and Museum.” Journal of Homosexuality 43, no. 1 (2002): 1-9.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Thompson, Mark, ed. Leatherfolk: Radical Sex, People, Politics, and Practice. 10th anniversary edition. Los Angeles: Alyson, 2001.

1952: ONE, Inc., Is Founded

Fall, 1973: Lesbian Herstory Archives Is Founded

1975: First Gay and Lesbian Archives Is Founded

Categories: History