Some friends and I are looking for a young man, and we’re hoping you can help.
I know. You’ve heard that before.
This particular quest began with an email from gay community archivist Ron Dutton. Dutton has been kind enough to gather up and store all our ancient treasures at his place and has a legendary collection of gay-life artifacts representing the past 40 years.
Dutton was writing to ask if I knew where our old friend David was, reminding me that for some years, a replica of Michelangelo’s David had place of honour in a 1970s and ’80s gay hotspot. He remembered seeing it at the Shaggy Horse. Who had it now, he wondered, and how could we go about retrieving it and similar icons from that time?
Now, what the original creator of David
might not have anticipated (but might have enjoyed) was that in this version, the lad was dressed for a rough night at the PumpJack. Leather David was his name.
This image of the original Leather David appears at leatherdavid.blogspot.ca, which appears to belong to artist Mike Caffee.
Dutton knew that our Leather David had been based on an original that lived at a bar in San Francisco and thought that someone had brought back a copy and installed it at the Shaggy. That was about all he knew.
“It has long since disappeared, hopefully into someone’s living room,” he wrote.
The only memory I have of Leather David involves his use as a prop in the sort of neoclassical drag production that you used to be able to see on many stages in this town. It featured a lot of multicoloured feather boas and the simulation of some behaviour that Michelangelo would certainly have recognized. I think Mona Lee was involved.
To start my hunt for David, or at least the memory of David, I searched out Empress ted northe where he holds court regularly, at Delany’s, and really started closing in on the story.
It turns out that back in 1966 San Francisco artist Mike Caffee had been commissioned to create a biker statue for the grand opening of Febe’s, the first leather bar on Folsom Street. Febe’s was the first of many gay and leather businesses to thrive on Folsom, helping make the area the kink capital of the world.
The Febe’s icon was reproduced for special presentations and in various media, including plaster, ceramic and a bronze miniature version. In 1970, northe was the recipient of a two-foot-high plaster-of-Paris copy that came to Vancouver with a contingent from Febe’s, on the occasion of northe’s first Empress of Canada ball.
But according to northe, it was never at the August Club, the club he co-owned, which later became the Shaggy. “This was a personal gift to me,” he says, “and I never took it to the club, and I’m sure it was never in the Shaggy. When John and Jim opened their first Playpen, I thought it would fit well with their scene and gave it to them. As far as I know, it was always at the Playpen.”
A little more sleuthing and I made contact with John Mikulik, co-owner through those years of the Playpens South, Central and North. Mikulik confirmed that the Playpen had been home to Leather David for a number of years, and then solved the mystery of the Shaggy David. It turns out that the late Frank McVeigh made a copy of that copy, and that was the Leather David that Dutton remembers seeing at the Shaggy.
So, we’re actually looking for two young men, and now that you know more about them than you knew to ask, maybe you can help. We’d love to reunite either or both of Vancouver’s Leather Davids with Dutton’s ever-growing collection of souvenirs from our community’s past, and if you have any idea where he might be hanging out (he must be getting on and may not look quite as hot), let us know.