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THE LEATHER ARCHIVES & MUSEUM

 The 10,000 square foot two-story Leather Archives and Museum (6418 North Greenview Avenue) is nestled on a quiet side street in Rogers Park.

 

The museum was formed in 1991 by leather men Chuck Renslow and Tony DeBlase and incorporated by the State of Illinois the same year. Since then the Leather Archives and Museum has been safeguarding the history of the fetish community and remains the only institution in the country dedicated to the compilation, preservation, maintenance, and access to alternative sex culture. The LA&M has become a tourist destination for kinky and non-kinky folks alike.

                     

The Early Years

Prior to 1995, the museum existed as little more than an expanding collection, appearing primarily as an exhibit at the International Mr. Leather contests. In 1996, a storefront location was opened on North Clark Street, but the volume of donations soon outgrew the space. Since 1999, the Leather Archives and Museum has been located at the Greenview Avenue address.    

 

What’s Inside the Museum

LA&M

Museum highlights include the dungeon exhibit with S&M and bondage equipment, a leather bar diorama, a Leather History Timeline, a Uniforms Room, an erotic art gallery, and the SINS Screening Room which plays films of leather and fetish interest in a loop.

Another notable feature is the Teri Rose Memorial Library, a 600 square ft. non-lending research library which holds an extensive collection of approximately 20,000 books, magazine, and library resources on all things leather and fetish.

However, the highlight of the LA&M is the 164 seat auditorium, a handsome meeting space adorned with approximately 20 murals by the celebrated erotic artist, Etienne.

In fact, these murals are the very heart of the museum. Chuck Renslow’s primary motivation in starting the LA&M was to store, maintain, and share with the public the extensive artwork of his late lover Etienne (Dom Orejudos). At the time, Renslow also donated boxes of memorabilia from his years in the leather community which included publishing male physique photographs in the 1950's, owning the world renown Gold Coast leather bar and other LGBTQ businesses, as well as being the founder of the International Mr. Leather contest.

         

Museum Visitors

Jose Santiago, Patron Services Representative for the museum, said that the weekly number of patrons at the Leather Archives and Museum averages 25-50, depending on the week, but that number can spike when college classes visit. He added that approximately 65% of the museum’s exhibited content directly addresses the LGBTQ community.

 According to Santiago, the most common responses of LA&M patrons is that the museum, “exceeded their expectations in terms of all the rich historical content that's interwoven throughout the museum. We also get feedback on the diversity of our exhibits — in terms of gender, race, and ability. My favorite comment from first time visitors is some version of, ‘I had no idea this history was so vast and rich!’"

                     

Motivation behind the Museum

The preservation and safeguarding of the history of the leather and fetish community has been a motivating force at the LA&M from the start. With the advent of the AIDS crisis, securing and sustaining the memory of so many kink pioneers became crucial. In the 1980s, when AIDS was decimating the community, history was being lost as well. Numerous items that were relevant in telling the sexual history of the BDSM community were being discarded by families who oftentimes didn’t understand the significance of what was left behind — artwork, bar vests, event pins, magazines, newsletters, and countless others items. The LA&M has become a place for protecting that history and keeping those memories alive.

Since 1991 the Leather Archives and Museum has played a key role in the storage of everything the leather and fetish communities has considered important. This primary purpose will not change in the foreseeable future. According to co-founder Chuck Renslow, "If you want to know where you are going, you need to know where you came from."

           

Chicago — According to Jose

A Taste of Heaven

When asked what he would recommend in Chicago to museum visitors, LA&M Services Representative Jose Santiago picked a tour of some of his favorite West Loop galleries: Aspect/Ratio Gallery (119 N. Peoria), Woman Made Gallery (685 N. Milwaukee), Gallery 400 (400 S. Peoria), Rhona Hoffman Gallery (119 N. Peoria), Chicago Artists Coalition (217 N. Carpenter), Linda Warren Gallery (327 N. Aberdeen, #151), and Kavi Gupta (835 W. Washington).

For dinner, Santiago likes the top Andersonville’s eateries: A Taste of Heaven (5401 N. Clark), Vincent (1475 W. Balmoral), Replay Andersonville (5358 N. Clark), and Big Jones (5347 N. Clark). In other neighborhoods his restaurant choices are Mfk. (432 W. Diversey) in Lakeview; Ethiopian Diamond in Edgewater (6120 N. Broadway); and Revival Social Club in Edgewater (1133 W. Granville).

For a cocktail, Santiago’s recommends the iconic Rogers Park leather bar Touche (6412 N. Clark) or the Lakeview institution, Berlin (954 W. Belmont).

 

The LA&M is open Thursdays/Fridays from 11am - 7pm and Saturdays/Sundays from 11am - 5pm. The museum galleries are closed on all major U.S. holidays. General admission $10; admission for students, seniors and military personnel is $5 (I.D. required). Last admission to the exhibits is 30 minutes prior to closing. Get full details at leatherarchives.org.

 

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