June 9, 2023

Take a Tour of the Historic Homes of 5 LGBTQ+ Artists

The National Trust for Historic Preservation’s Historic Artists’ Homes and Studios (HAHS) program boasts a significant collection of sites representing LGBTQ+ artists, perfect for a Pride pilgrimage. From the classically trained to the folk artist, from those of the Victorian era to those living just a handful of years ago, these individuals worked in media that included painting, photography, and textile weaving––all shaping creative practice as we know it.

Learn their stories at these five historic sites dedicated to sharing these artists’ journeys of creativity.

Alice Austen House (Staten Island, New York)

Alice Austen House exterior

photo by: Floto & Warner/Alice Austen House

Exterior of the Alice Austen House, one of the safe spaces cultivated by Austen during her lifetime.

Alice Austen began taking photographs in 1876 at the age of ten. She would go on to haul fifty pounds of equipment on her bike through Staten Island, all while wearing an ankle-length skirt because it wasn’t “proper” for women to show their ankles. Luckily, Austen wasn’t interested in propriety.

“She really broke boundaries and bucked norms for Victorian women,” said Victoria Munro, executive director of Alice Austen House. “She poked fun at all the things women weren’t allowed to do. She and her friends posed with fake cigarettes in their petticoats, showing their legs.”

Some of Austen’s photographs were intended for personal distribution, particularly those that depicted intimate friendships and relationships between women, including cross-dressing.

“Alice created safe spaces for her(self) and her female companions, so they had places for women to go to not be chaperoned by men,” Munro said.

Among these safe spaces was a garden club. In honor of Austen’s love of plants, her museum’s gardens were thoughtfully planned to pay homage to her LGBTQ+ identity.

“We were able to use plant ecology as inspiration for what is inherently queer in nature. That means nonbinary plants, plants that change their gender, and self-pollinating plants, ” Munro said.

The house was a safe space where Austen not only entertained her friends but also lived for thirty years with her longtime partner, Gertrude Tate. Their relationship is lovingly centered throughout the exhibits as part of Austen’s contribution to pre-Stonewall history.

A penny photograph of Alice Austen and her longtime partner Gertrude Tate.

Demuth Museum (Lancaster, Pennsylvania)

Known for his watercolors and Precisionism, the modern art movement he helped pioneer, painter Charles Demuth was a fixture in the LGBTQ+ community in Greenwich Village and Provincetown in the early 1900s. However, Demuth was a private man who didn’t write about his sexuality.

Exterior of a brick building with a glass window with the lettering Demuth Museum Entrance on it.

photo by: Linnae Budusky

The Demuth Museum in Pennsylvania is working to reinterpret Demuth's work through the lens of his LGBTQ+ identity.

“It’s interesting that despite there being no documentation of any definitive relationship, it’s widely known and accepted that he was gay,” said Abby Baer, executive director of the Demuth Foundation. “There are some letters and correspondence from people who knew him that we can reference, but we don’t have anything that says ‘This is his partner.’”

The Foundation has been working to reinterpret Demuth’s work through the lens of his LGBTQ+ identity. In 2022 the Demuth Foundation received one of eighty grants from the Telling the Full History Preservation Fund, which was made possible with support from the National Endowment for the Humanities through the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021. The grant funded the research phase of the Foundation's reinterpretation project where public historians, curators, and art historians contributed work to better understand and share Demuth's art in terms of LGBTQ+ themes and history.

“He painted various subjects, including pieces that have themes common in LGBTQ+ work, like sailors, vaudeville, jazz clubs, and Turkish baths,” said Baer.

The museum remains open though full reinterpretation is expected to be complete in 2024.

A black and white image of the artist Charles Demuth and his mother Augusta from 1920.

photo by: Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Charles Demuth and his mother August Demuth in a garden c. 1920. From the Richard W. C. Weyand Collection of Charles Demuth, Yale Collection of American Literature.

Pasaquan (Buena Vista, Georgia)

photo by: Charles Fowler

A view of Pasaquan in Buena Vista, Georgia. Eddie Owens Martin created this place as a sanctuary and utopia for all.

To describe Eddie Owens Martin in one sentence, “He’s definitely a character,” said Michael McFalls, director of Pasaquan, Martin’s home in rural Buena Vista, Georgia, where Martin’s studio wasn’t confined to the indoors. St. EOM (pronounced ohm) let his art spill out onto the seven-acre property, with colorful totems, oscillating garden walls, and murals.

At 14, Martin hitchhiked to New York City to reinvent his life. There he got connected with the LGBTQ+ community and “lived a midnight cowboy, street hustler, drag queen, prostitute-selling-illegal-drugs experience in the Village in the Roaring Twenties,” McFalls said.

There, he had a vision that changed his art––and his life––forever.

He fell ill and a life form from the future visited him in a dream. “The being tells him it’s the end of the road if he doesn’t change, so he then ends up reading tea leaves on 42nd Street and becomes a mystic,” said McFalls. That’s how he became the Wizard of Greenwich Village.

St. EOM called the beings Pasaquoyans. “He starts talking about Pasaquoyans as genderfluid ... [and] their sexuality is fluid,” said McFalls. “In his early fashion drawings ... even if they’re presenting female in the drawing, have masculine features. The Pasaquoyans come from those drawings.”

When his parents passed away, he inherited his childhood home, so Martin left New York City in 1956 to build a place where genderfluid beings can live in harmony and be open about their sexuality, and where Martin could worship Pasaquoyans.

“Eddie’s world was a utopia,” McFalls said. “He’d openly say all races, all creeds, all genders are welcome.”

In honoring Martin’s legacy, Pasaquan welcomes visitors and has residencies for LGBTQ+ artists.

Eddie Owens Martin.

photo by: The Columbus State University Simon Schwob Memorial Library Archives.

Eddie Owens Martin, the creator of Pasaquan.

Roger Brown Study Collection (Chicago, Illinois)

Born in Alabama to a family who encouraged his creativity, Roger Brown moved to Chicago to study at the School of the Art Institute in the 1960s. There, he honed the distinct, bold style of painting he used to comment on politics, religion, and many more aspects of late-20th-century life.

“It’s hard to come up with a subject or phenomenon that he didn’t address in his paintings,” said Lisa Stone, curator of the Roger Brown Study Collection from 1997 to 2020. “He really did address what seems like all aspects of sexuality from the sublime to popular culture. He did one painting in a freak show banner style with Magic Johnson.” The painting was in response to the straight Magic Johnson announcing he was HIV-positive in 1991 after the queer community had been vilified for the disease for more than a decade.

Roger Brown standing at a newsstand holding an issue of Time Magazine that has one of his paintings on the cover.

photo by: William H. Bengtson

Roger Brown at a Chicago newsstand, his painting on the cover of Time magazine c. 1990.

Roger Brown sitting in his studio. In front of him, on a chair is a guitar made of red flowers and fringe.

photo by: William H. Bengtson

Roger Brown sitting in his studio, surrounded by a number of pieces in his collection.

Although Brown addressed his LGBTQ+ identity in many paintings, particularly those for and inspired by his longtime partner, the architect George Veronda, how his sexuality and his art intertwine is complicated.

“He was never hiding his sexuality, but Roger was adamant that he didn’t want to be known as a gay artist,” Stone said. “He wanted to be known as an American artist and didn’t want his sexual identity to be the lens through which his work was seen.”

Brown was especially prolific toward the end of his life. Veronda passed away in 1984 and Brown was diagnosed with HIV in 1988, so he threw himself into his work in his final years.

Out of respect for Roger’s wishes, the Roger Brown Study Collection doesn’t shoehorn his work into a specifically LGBTQ+ collection, though his and Veronda’s love abounds throughout the space.

LongHouse Reserve (East Hampton, New York)

Textile artist, collector, author, and gardener Jack Lenor Larsen (1927-2020) had for years before his death talked about how his home would be open to the public after his death. While his 16-acre garden had been open for all since the early 1990s, his 13,000-square-foot home—a modernist concept house based on the sacred Shinto Shrine at Ise—is now being studied to allow for public tours of his vast and eclectic global collections in the future.

“He was always very welcoming of friends and guests,” said LongHouse director Carrie Barratt, “a brilliant conversationalist and thought leader. He had people over in salon fashion, similar to how Gertrude Stein gathered creative people around her. You’d always find interesting people here talking about interesting things.” Larsen’s legacy will be the gift of allowing more people into the house and garden, for many more conversations, and to make as many people as possible feel welcome.

A color portrait of artist Jack Lenor Larsen in white reclining in a chair.

photo by: © Jack Lenor Larsen by Shonna Valeska

Portrait of artist Jack Lenor Larsen.

After the home was built in 1990, Larsen wasted no time acquiring pieces from some of the biggest names in modern art, like Dale Chihuly, Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Yoko Ono, and many more. Every year, the LongHouse program includes loans from contemporary artists, creating a world-class sculpture garden.

“Jack’s life as a weaver and textile artist took him all over the world,” Barratt said. “He brought his global collections, and wide-ranging ideas about the world to East Hampton, creating an atmosphere of openness to ideas near and far.”

A view of a house in the fall from the far side of a small water feature that is littered with fall leaves. The sky in the background is blue and the home is surrounded by woods.

photo by: Americasroof via Wikimedia CC SA 3.0

A view of the main house at LongHouse Reserve in East Hampton, New York

Larsen was a private person and while he didn’t write about his identity or lead LongHouse as an LGBTQ+ institution in his lifetime, he welcomed all with an exquisite openness.

One of the ways LongHouse is celebrating Larsen’s openness is by collaborating with Hamptons Pride, the year-old organization galvanizing LGBTQ+ activities and advocacy in the Hamptons. This year, 2023, will be the second parade to open Pride Month, and LongHouse will again host the closing celebrations on June 25. This makes it an especially good time to visit LongHouse and learn more about Larsen, his life, and collections.

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Mandy Shunnarah (they/them) is a writer who loves old things. When they're not writing their next book, they can often be found wandering around historic places like theatres, cemeteries, and author homes (usually with permission). Learn more at mandyshunnarah.com.

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