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San Antonio Artist and Activist Gene Elder donates journals to UTSA Libraries Special Collections

April 6, 2015

Gene 001

Gene Elder, local artist and activist, donated 21 volumes of his journals to UTSA Special Collections in 2014. The journals span three decades, beginning with 1970s and continuing through the 1990s. Elder explains his reasons for creating the journals:

I started keeping these after I was the manager and part owner with Arthur Veltman of the gay disco, San Antonio Country, in 1974. They are really as much about the art community and gay concerns in San Antonio as about my thoughts on these matters. My writings are interspersed with collages of art notices and pictures. I also kept an ongoing history of the gay movement in the United Sates. . . . I collected art invitations from a lot of artists and galleries. It isn’t just my own history. . . . art events and gay civil rights were so interwoven in my life.

Gene 006

Elder, seen in these photographs at the Happy Foundation GLBT Archives where he serves as Archivist, assembled a unique chronicle of many aspects of his life including his activism and passion for art. Gene’s love of collecting is evident in his journals which contain original artwork, invitations, exhibit cards, slides, photographs, clippings, personal papers, and correspondence. Nestled among these many treasures are narratives by Elder which provide context for events and items preserved on the pages.

Gene Elder journal page from volume 16 recalling act of civil disobedience on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

Gene Elder journal pages from volume 16 recalling act of civil disobedience on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C.

civil disobedience 2

Journal pages often have multiple layers as is evident in the example below. Poetry and prose from Elder’s friends abound.

Warrior Gene

In addition to his journals, Elder donated many personal photographs chronicling the days of his youth through his adult years. Glimpsing into Elder’s past through images, one can detect that his artistic aspirations were quite apparent even in his youth. Who knew Gene concocted the idea for the Wedding Cake Liberation Front at the tender age of four . . . so creative for one so young! It may have taken him several decades to see his vision for this tasty art meets activism creation become reality, but the wait was worth it. Elder explains:

The wedding cake has become the chosen method of protest by the action-packed, thrill-seeking GayBLTQDFI? communities to stop the anti-gay marriage amendments plaguing America. Never has a battle tasted so good or a wedding cake been so fierce.

Elder at four years

Elder at four years perhaps finding early inspiration for the Wedding Cake Liberation Front.

The Gene Elder papers will be available in the near future at the Libraries Special Collections reading room on main campus and can be accessed by submitting a request to access a collection.

Gene Elder can be reached at elder4tomato@yahoo.com.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Gene permalink
    July 16, 2015 6:25 pm

    Does this really work?

  2. Gene permalink
    July 18, 2015 1:20 pm

    HI: Today is July 18, 2015
    I asked Connie Wright to leave a message here since this photo is of her and me at one of her parties. She emailed this to me.

    Dear Hero and friend Gene,

    I am leaving comments here rather than on the blog since I don’t do social media. I loved looking at the photos and notes by and about you. You have interested, fascinated and attracted me since we met in 1971 at Trinity University when we were both in the play The Night Thoreau Spent In Jail. You were a soldier (you died really well if I remember correctly) and I was Lydian Emerson (her name was Lydia but supposedly Emerson changed it to Lydian to make it more euphonious). You did rapid macramé backstage in the greenroom area.

    Seeing the photos made me also think of things about you that I have loved watching and experiencing. The idea of PARTY. How when you ran for mayor you ran on the PARTY Party Ticket, the Artists’ Political Ticket. Your party, your life, is not exclusive but rather inclusive, for you welcome and embrace all. You are a good listener as well as such a witty and brilliant conversationalist. (hence an asset to any party). Two of the photos displayed are from this HUGE Easter egg hunt party we gave when I was the caretaker and lived at Mehren House mansion on Holbrook Road. We colored maybe 100+ eggs (using natural dyes from onion skins, beets etc.) and we put them around the front lawn. It was a mad and wild costume party. At one point we were upstairs looking down on the lawn and it felt straight out of a Fellini movie seeing friends wearing fabulous flamboyant costumes whilst hunting for eggs. I do think our costumes were the best – you as a giant version of one of your Fetish Dolls and me in a rich velvet and brocade Shakespearean costume with a long flowing train.

    You make life a party and you give and give of yourself. When you ran the San Antonio Country, all were welcome. It was so festive and totally fun. You had art shows there. We had exercise sessions and when I worked as day bartender I would bring my dog Alberta Starr.

    Later I worked in Tulsa as well as working on seismic crews in Nevada and Utah. You always wrote. One time the secretary in Tulsa (where Senturion Sciences was based) came to me with an envelope that had a fine stream of dirt or sand flowing out of it. I opened this art piece letter from you. You had written, “…what’s the inside dirt?…”

    Life with you, knowing and loving you, is a beautiful party filled with love for all.
    I am so proud to be your friend.

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