Home Page of the LA&M

In 2016 the Leather Archives and Museum celebrates its 25th anniversary. Officially, the LA&M began in 1991, but the real story is much older. It began in the 1950's when my partner, Dom Orejudos, and I opened Kris Studios. Through Dom's artistic ingenuity and my photography skills we produced photo sets of bodybuilders – beefcake, the predecessor of gay porn. We took the best of these photos back home to our basement for packaging and fulfillment. Unfortunately, a sewer flood in the 1960's destroyed the best of the negatives and left me very aware of the necessity for safe storage.

As the artist Etienne, Dom continued to produce drawings and paintings starting in the 1950's and continuing until his too early death in 1991. A noted erotic artist, Dom's art had been used to promote and identify a number of businesses around the world, including our own International Mr. Leather, The Gold Coast Leather Bar and Man’s Country Baths. Left with this treasure trove of sketches and finished pieces, and concerned about their preservation, I began contacting art museums in Chicago, San Francisco and New York. Each museum expressed an interest, but they all wanted to pick and choose which pieces they'd accept into their collections. I felt it better to keep the entire collection intact. I decided to create a foundation to hold Dom's art.

Our History

The LA&M is everywhere!


Chuck Renslow and Tony DeBlase at the first LA&M Gallery on Clark Street in Chicago.

During a conversation with my good friend and Drummer publisher, Tony DeBlase, I mentioned the foundation. Tony talked me down. He felt foundations didn't last. “What you need is a museum,” he suggested. By the time that conversation ended, the concept of LA&M was born. In addition to all of Etienne's art, I'd pledged my Gold Coast, IML and Kris Studios archives and Tony pledged his archives from Drummer Magazine.

Our first museum was a storefront at 5013 N. Clark Street, next door to my bathhouse and my office. It had a small display area and larger back storage room which quickly overflowed with other collections and donations arriving every week. We were in the thick of the AIDS epidemic and with each death, families and friends were unknowingly tossing our history into dumpsters. That there was a safe place to conserve that history simply made more sense. I asked Barry Johnson to join us on the first board of directors and we hired our first curator, Joseph Bean. In no time, the museum was useless as the archives filled every space.

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Chuck Renslow and Tony DeBlase at the first LA&M Gallery on Clark Street in Chicago.

Both Tony and I strongly believed we needed to own the building housing the collection. If that property was owned by a tax exempt 501 c(3) non-profit, it would be free from real estate and other taxes. We eventually located the old Greenview Center for the Performing Arts which had occupied an even older Jewish synagogue. We needed $60,000 for the down payment but only had $3,000. From the IML stage, Joseph Bean made an emotional appeal for funds and we passed the baskets. Through the generosity of the leather men and women assembled that night, we raised an incredible $58,000 in cash, checks and pledges. Within a few months the building was ours.

A short 5 years later we were facing a balloon payment and again turned to the leather/fetish community for assistance. I honestly don't know how we did it but when the smoke cleared it was the smoke coming from a mortgage burning ceremony. With the help of a lot of dedicated people and through the generosity of the entire community, we owned 6418 N. Greenview free and clear.

While its hard to top the mortgage burning ceremony, we can be proud of the continued good work done in the name of the leather/fetish community. Day-to-day, the work of the Leather Archives and Museum continues both to save our history and make it available to the public as a whole.

Chuck Renslow


Leather Archives & Museum

April 2016

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