Tom of Finland was born in 1920, soon after Finnish independence. His mother was into arts and crafts, and encouraged him to draw. As he grew older, Tom started to create his own masturbatory material by sketching his homoerotic fantasies, which mostly featured blue collar workers.
In 1957, Tom started to publish his drawings, though they were deemed pornography and he was paid very little. The publishing industry was not well-regulated at the time—publishers frequently failed to return originals and Tom’s art was pirated everywhere. To preserve his work, Tom’s friend Durk Dehner offered to help him start a publishing house in the United States. Dehner soon realised the importance of archiving and preserving Tom’s work, so the two started Tom of Finland Foundation in 1984.
Many volunteers were recruited to help with the Foundation’s archive. Durk brought me on as an archivist because of my experience in studio and gallery management, though we all do many things and take up whatever needs to be done. This year, for example, the Foundation is celebrating Tom’s Centennial, so everyone works together wearing many different hats to ensure it is a success.
Today, Tom of Finland Foundation collects, documents, and preserves materials related to Tom of Finland, his life, and his work. We also manage information from artists who produce erotic art, as well as documents and ephemeral materials that reflect the history of queer male culture and movements. Our holdings give context to the creations of contemporary life, those who have lived it, and their experiences. As archivists, our job is not to assign value to the materials in our library, archives, or art collections, but to maintain them for researchers, scholars, and artists to interpret now and into the future.
Published: 5th December 2020Tags: Karthik Aithal, Queer Majority