James C. Hormel LGBTQIA Center

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Verasphere Archive

Love Parade, Little Girl, 2008
As Halloween approaches, we all start to think about what to wear and who to be. Might there be something around the house that I can re-purpose into a costume? If you need inspiration, take a look at the Verasphere Archive (GLC 59).

Cross the technicolor world of Willy Wonka with the Project Runway unconventional challenge, and you'll have some idea of the color and innovation that inform the Verasphere costumes and personae. Vibrant. Elaborate. Resourceful. Artistic.

David Faulk, Flower Power Hoop Skirt, 2008
The Verasphere Archive contains newspaper clippings, oral histories, video-recordings, and, most importantly, photographs that document the costumes, appearances, and makeup of San Francisco's own Mrs. Vera, a drag persona, and her circle of friends.

Verasphere, 2008
Mrs. Vera is the collaboration of gay artist and costume designer David Faulk and his partner, photographer Michael Johnstone. The characters Mrs. Vera (Faulk), Mr. Tina (Johnstone), and their friends are collectively known as the "Verasphere." Beginning in the early 1990s, Johnstone documented their appearances at San Francisco street fairs, clubs, and other events. This was the start of the Mrs. Vera Daybook photograph series.

Folsom 2008, City Hall
The Daybook series began as a light-hearted documentation, but with the losses due to AIDS, and the presence of HIV, it has become a vibrant response to the depradations of the disease on both the physical and emotional landscapes. With Johnstone's diagnosis of bilateral cytomegalovirus, the work began to change, taking on a more serious subtext.

Green Dandy Top Hat, 2008
The archive has three photo albums. One of them contains pictures of costume pieces, with notes on what materials were used in their fabrication and when and where they were worn. The Green Dandy Top Hat is made from crepe paper, wire, tape, an inflatable flotation device, fishnets, hairclips, featherboa, fake bird, plastic jewels and a velvet top hat. It's just one example of the brilliant use of color, pattern, and texture. Johnstone notes that the colors in the photographs are un-retouched.

The Verasphere Archive (GLC 59) is available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library. The photographs are available during the hours for the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.

Glamarama opening, November 2007

If you can't make it to the library, be sure to check out the Verasphere website for the latest information and photographs on Mrs. Vera and her entourage.

Villa Parkmerced, 2006

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Archives: Jean Swallow Papers

Photo: Irene Young
Jean Swallow (1953-1995) was a lesbian writer and editor who lived in North Carolina and the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work includes poetry, novels, essays, and newspaper editing. Her anthology Out From Under was published in 1983 and was the first book by and about lesbians in recovery from substance abuse. Its success led to a follow-up volume, The Next Step, in 1993. The publicity photo at right was taken by Irene Young for The Next Step.

Both books were welcome additions to the literature of lesbians in recovery, as one can see by Swallow's fan mail. Her contributions to recovery literature form a piece of the larger story recounted by Trysh Travis in her book The Language of the Heart: a Cultural History of the Recovery Movement from Alcoholics Anonymous to Oprah Winfrey.

Jean's novel Leave a Light on for Me was published in 1986 and reissued in 1991. In 1995, Swallow completed a book-length draft of interviews with GLBT families. These interviews, and their accompanying photographs by Geoff Manasse, were published under the title Making Love Visible: In Celebration of Gay and Lesbian Families.

Throughout her life, Jean continued to write shorter pieces, poems and stories. She collected some of these in "How (Some of) It Works," "The Star Poems" and "Winter Poems." There are often several drafts for each poem, with changes to specific words and word order. Most edits were made by Swallow, with some by other writers whom she trusted.

Swallow was well-connected to the women's publishing community in the San Francisco Bay Area. In fact, she was on the organizing committee for the third Women in Print Conference that met in Berkeley in 1985. Her file for this event includes minutes and organizational material as well as her own notes on several sessions, including one on Barbara Grier's controversial approach to promoting the book Lesbian Nuns (Naiad Press).

Jean Swallow died of an apparent suicide on January 16, 1995 in Seattle, Washington. At the time of her death, she had been clean and sober for 14 years. Her Papers were donated to the San Francisco Public Library in 1998 by Betsy Walker and Marian Michener.

The Jean Swallow Papers contain correspondence with authors and publishers, drafts of books, poems, stories, and talks, copies of published pieces, and publicity materials. In addition, there is background research on various subjects, including Alcoholics Anonymous and other groups that assist people in recovery from substance abuse, and the Green River Murders.

The Jean Swallow Papers (GLC 50) are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library. The photographs are available during the hours for the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Archives: David Lourea and the Bisexual Center

The Bay Area Bisexual Network (BABN) was founded in 1987 and is celebrating its 25th anniversary. So it seems a fitting time to highlight the David Lourea Papers which contains documentation of the bisexual community in San Francisco.

David Nachman Lourea (1945-1992) was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and was raised an orthodox Jew. He received a B.F.A. from Temple University in 1967 and moved with his family to San Francisco in 1973. He was active with San Francisco Sex Information, was one of the early members of the San Francisco Bisexual Center and was one of the founders of Bisexual Counseling Services. He earned a Ph.D from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality and served on the board of Congregation Ahavat Shalom. He died in San Francisco in 1992 from kidney failure associated with AIDS.

The Lourea Papers contains correspondence, articles, magazines, newspaper clippings, newsletters, and other ephemera on bisexuality and on the San Francisco Bisexual Center.


The San Francisco Bisexual Center was founded in August 1976 by Maggi Rubinstein and Harriet Leve. The purpose was to "serve as a positive support base to facilitate communication, to teach each other by sharing...learning, and to explore the essence and potential of loving" for bisexuals. At its first meeting 22 attendees established a steering committee. By early 1977 the Bi Center sponsored about 15 events per month from rap groups to barbecues to dances. Its membership was about 140. The center held a press conference in June 1977 to speak out against Anita Bryant and Proposition 6 (aka the Briggs Initiative). As a result of the media exposure, membership rose to 435. Lourea was one of the early members and was an early co-director. The Bi Center closed in 1985.

The Lourea Papers also contains material on other organizations that provided information to San Francisco residents: San Francisco Sex Information hotline, BiPol, a political action group formed in the late 1970s, and the Bay Area Bisexual Network. Lourea was keenly interested in the subject of education in the areas of sexuality and sexual activity within the gay and bisexual communities. Several files contain pamphlets, flyers, and drafts for the same, for the promotion of safe sex during the early years of the AIDS crisis. The collection also includes statistics on AIDS cases in San Francisco.

The David Lourea Papers (GLC 55) are available through the San Francisco History Center, 6th floor, Main Library. The photographs are available during the hours for the San Francisco Historical Photograph Collection.