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22 February 2010, 1:30 pm 3 Comments

Uncategorized: Tom of Finland House

This post was submitted by raphael

One of the most important sites in GLBT history is right here in Los Angeles, and hardly anyone knows about it.

Portrait of Tom of Finland. My apologies to the artist, but I forgot his name! Photo by M. Pieknik.

I am talking, of course, of the Tom of Finland House, and the Foundation that bears his name.

An image from the Tom of Finland Foundation's online gallery

Outside the community of artists and S&M enthusiasts, few Angelenos are aware that a site of such international significance lies tucked away on a hilltop in Echo Park. Sure, maybe a few neighbors notice the TOF car as it drives through the area (its decor is hardly subtle). But I wish more more of us (particularly in the queer community) took time to appreciate Tom’s role in our history, and the value of erotic art in our lives.

Brad and me and the Tom of Finland car. Photo by M. Pieknik.

A bit of history: Tom, or Touko Laaksonen, was born in Finland in 1920. Newly independent from Russia, it aligned itself with the Third Reich and the Nazis during World War II, when Stalin invaded. Tom was drafted into the Finnish army. It was among the Finnish and Nazi soldiers that Tom explored his sexuality and developed much of the strongman imagery evident in his art. He made a living drawing ads and pictorials for magazines, and in 1978 had his first exhibition in Los Angeles. Though he traveled extensively among the cultural capitals of the world, he divided most of his time between Los Angeles and Helsinki. He died in 1991 from an emphysema-related stroke. His home in Los Angeles now hosts the Tom of Finland Erotic Art Foundation, and is under the manager of his one-time model and business manager, Durk Dehner.

The house serves a number of roles: A cultural center for the fetish community, a repository for artwork and artifacts from Tom’s life, a showcase for hundreds of pieces of erotic art by other artists, and a residency for new and emerging erotic artists. This summer, I was fortunate enough to be invited to the house for a tour. I have nothing scandalous to report–it was a social visit, not an erotic escapade–but I was amazed that I was ignorant that such an important part of queer history was here in Los Angeles.

Tom's room. Photo by M. Pieknik.

The amount of space devoted to Tom-the-Man is surprisingly small. His bedroom has been preserved, with his personal affects laid by his bed. His Nazi uniform is obviously one of the most striking things on display. But perhaps most interesting were his sketchbooks, full of magazine ads he modified to adorn the models with the curves and endowments that make his aesthetic so distinctive.

I was perhaps most impressed by the museum’s mission to preserve and protect erotic art. Pornography is without a doubt one of the most prominent feature in our lives, and is often the way many of us explore our sexuality. Yet because of the shame and stigma associated with pornography, it is also highly endangered. So much artwork has been destroyed in moments of shame, or in fits of anti-sexual hysteria. Yet it is an unequaled chronicler of our private lives, particularly of queer lives.

Thankfully, the museum has saved some of these works of art, and has scholarships to support young artists. Nearly every square foot of the museum is adorned with a painting or drawing, and every corner fit with a sculpture.

The museum’s mission seems to be aligned with that of publisher TASCHEN, which has released whole series of books dedicated to erotic art under the direction of editor Dian Hanson. It’s fitting that TASCHEN published a  compendium of Tom’s entire career, entitled XXL: Bigger is Better.

The museum is not open to the public. If you are interested in visiting the Tom of Finland House or learning about the Erotic Art Foundation, please contact them through their website. You can also learn about their events and workshops, such as the annual Erotic Arts Fair in West Hollywood, drawing workshops, and erotic art shows throughout Los Angeles.

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  • Andrew D said:

    Thanks for this story Rafi, i had no idea this was in Echo Park. A friend of mine actually helped on the layout/design of the Tom of Finland book for Taschen. Love me some Taschen.

    This is great, you should do a little photo essay if you have more pics from this.

  • raphael (author) said:

    Oh, I don’t have too many more pics, and those I have are perhaps not the most appropriate for a general audience.

    It’s funny–we ALL know Tom’s work, but we have no idea that he lived right here!

  • Annie said:

    (queue the ‘the more you know’ music) Thanks Rafi! Great article, I definitely want to check this place out.