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By Megan Smith
During his nearly 20 years on staff, collections curator Wallace Saage has seen numerous exhibits pass through the halls of the Heritage Society. Located in Sam Houston Park in the heart of downtown Houston, the 60-year-old museum complex is dedicated to showcasing Houston’s diverse history and boasts 10 historic homes, a gallery, and 23,000 items in its collections. But for Saage—who has been openly gay for nearly 40 years—the society’s newest exhibit, Throughout! Houston’s GLBT History, is one of the most exciting and deeply personal to grace the gallery.
The exhibit, which launches June 2, takes an in-depth look at the social, cultural, and political aspects of Houston’s LGBT history from the pre-Stonewall era to the present-day movement. With around 250 pieces on loan from local collectors and the Gulf Coast Archive and Museum of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender History (GCAM), Saage says the exhibit will be the most comprehensive LGBT history of Houston ever presented.
Saage approached the Heritage Society’s director, Alice Collette, over a year ago with the idea for the exhibit, and was met with nothing but support, he says. “It’s our city’s history,” Collette says. “It’s part of our mission. Our mission is to collect, preserve, exhibit, and celebrate the diverse history of the city. This is just a wonderful cultural chapter for Houston, and we think it’s a great way to talk about our diversity.” Saage adds, “We’re the only history organization in Houston that would do such a thing. I’m just glad this exhibit is coming out, because it’s sort of an affirmation of my life.”
Some of the exhibit’s highlights include bar memorabilia from Mary’s, a navy uniform worn by the late Jimmy Carper’s lover during his time in the service, and a Miss Camp America gown. “It’s a huge kimono that’s just going to be spectacular,” Saage says about the gown. “We’re weaving this whole narrative that includes the history of drag, and how it turned into a more activist thing to protect and give funding to the community [as the AIDS crisis began].” Sections on LGBT-specific sports groups, transgender history, women within the LGBT movement, and the leather community will also be included.
Additionally, a series of seven evening lectures—covering topics such as segregation in the LGBT community, Houston gay theater in the 1980s, and a history of the Houston GLBT Political Caucus—will be presented by a variety of community activists and experts during the course of the exhibit. “We’ve had good community support and involvement,” Collette says. She adds that the Houston Area Ryan White Planning Council has developed a history of Houston’s response to AIDS from the 1970s to today, specifically for the Throughout! exhibit. “To me, it’s just fascinating,” Collette says. “I’m a Houstonian, and there’s certainly a lot of things in that timeline that I knew, but there was a lot I didn’t know. So it’s an educational piece.”
Although the society aims to make the exhibit as complete as possible, there will be gaps, Saage warns. However, the society hopes to use these voids as an opportunity to reach out to the community in order to expand the collection. “We’re hoping when people come in and ask why something isn’t here, we can say it’s because we don’t have it, but ask them if they have something that we could borrow for the run of this exhibit [to fill that gap],” he says.
The local art community—both gay and straight—has also come together to help create the Art from the Time of Dying exhibit that will be on display in the Heritage Society Tea Room and running concurrently with Throughout! Curated by Bart Truxillo, this sister exhibit will feature around 30 paintings, sculptures, and other works—both by artists lost to AIDS and by those who created art in memory of loved ones. One of Saage’s favorite pieces, he says, is a funerary urn that a local gay man had a San Antonio-based artist design to commemorate his partner who passed away from AIDS. “I think some really powerful pieces are going to be in there,” Saage says.
With the Supreme Court’s ruling on marriage equality and the Houston Pride celebration scheduled for this month, the exhibit couldn’t come at a more pertinent time, Saage says. “With the Pride parade moving downtown, we’re expecting a lot of people to come through our exhibit,” he says. “So we’re glad about that. I think it’s important for the younger adults coming in to see—but it’s also a great reminiscence for my generation, just because we lived it. This is going to be a fun exhibit that will appeal to everyone.”
What: Throughout! Houston’s GLBT History
When: June 2–September 19
Where: The Heritage Society, 1100 Bagby St.
Details: Admission to the exhibit is free. For more information and a full schedule of the exhibit’s lecture series, visit heritagesociety.org.