Leather Archives and Museum

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If you're looking for proof that leather is not just an underground cult, this is it. The Leather Archives and Museum calls itself "the first museum exhibit devoted to the history and development of the leather/SM/fetish communities of North America." Here is the book "With Rod and Whip: A History of Flagellation Among Different Nations." Here are the '50s male beefcake mags, which "contained at the time leather items," museum founder Chuck Renslow said. "It was the only place you could get it."

Randy Sauder, a nationally known leather man, donated his boots and hat to the museum when he died. They're right across the room from the flag carried by the Leather Contingent at the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riot in New York City. The museum's art collection is devoted to S&M scenes. Many of the paintings came from the brush of Renslow's partner, the late Dom Orejudos, who worked under the name Etienne. The art of Phil Andros (that's "lover of men" in Greek for you non-classicists) and the photographs of Robert Mapplethorpe also hang here. Scholars have found the collection valuable in their work. Anthony DeBlase, a member of the museum's board, has compiled a "Leather History Timeline," which traces homosexuality from ancient Egypt to modern times. And a Kinsey Institute researcher has used the archives as a source for his study "The Construction of Sadomasochism as a Cultural Category in the Twentieth Century United States."

Straights might consider the exhibits shocking, admits volunteer Tom Koppes. But he is more interested in historical value than titillation factor. "I kind of get caught up in this," he said. "I'm thinking of how to preserve this. I think it's so important, because in the gay community, during a time of repression, there was a big demand for this, and it was typically destroyed when it was discovered by family members. Now we have a repository, or archives, for it."