One of the world's largest and most diverse collections of leather and BDSM fetish gear has is exhibited in a quiet residential area of Chicago. Let's take a closer look at The Leather Archives & Museum.
What is the Leather Archives & Museum?
The Leather Archives & Museum (LA&M) exists to house and preserve gear and research collections associated with leather, kink and fetish lifestyles. It was founded by Chicago native and entrepreneur Chuck Renslow, who worked to promote gay rights and community from the 1950s up until his death in 2017.
Having created and amassed a huge collection of erotic photos and artwork with his partner Dom Orejudos (also known as the artist Etienne), Renslow found himself without a way to protect and preserve it after Orejudos' death in 1991. He joined forces with Tony DeBlase, publisher of Drummer and creator of the Leather Pride Flag, to set up a space to store and display the artwork, along with archives of the magazine. Thanks to donations from the local leather and fetish community, the original museum quickly filled so Renslow moved the growing collection to its current home in Rogers Park.
Today, the Leather Archives & Museum boasts eight exhibition galleries, a 164-seat auditorium, a climate-controlled archive and a research library.
What does LA&M contain?
The LA&M archival collections and research library are open to anyone over the age of 18 for free during regular museum hours. The museum galleries are open to adults for a small fee. Guest exhibitions vary, and permanent galleries include the Dungeon, a collection of fetish and BDSM equipment, artifacts from the Women's Leather History Project, and the Leatherbar, which pays homage to the history and popularity of U.S. leather bars and bootblacking since the 50s. Museum entrance is free every Thursday, thanks to the generous support of CLAW.
The LA&M's auditorium displays murals by Etienne, and gear from leather clubs and contests from around the world are displayed throughout the building (Chuck Renslow also established the International Mr. Leather contest), alongside historically-significant leather, uniform and boots.
The archive is vast and contains everything from journals and financial records, to memorabilia and audio recordings related to leather, BDSM, kink and fetish. It's an incredibly rich resource for anyone looking to explore leather subculture and traditionally marginalized expressions of sexuality. Access to the archive is available by appointment.
Safeguarding all things leather and fetish
With its mission to "make leather, kink, BDSM, and fetish accessible through research, preservation, education and community engagement," the Leather Archives & Museum places leather fetish within a wider cultural and historical context. It's an international hub of leather and fetish advocacy, as well as an important voice in the recognition of sexual equality and sexuality as a topic of study. There's also a leather preservation project, touring exhibition road show, online store and a recently produced documentary under the LA&M banner.
All of this is funded through private donations. Thanks to a global network of members and supporters, the LA&M looks set to ensure the leather fetish scene keeps going from strength to strength.
The museum is currently running a photography exhibition of work by photographer inkedKenny, that runs till 7 June 2018.