Le Gip entered a difficult period after working at Sears. He found a new job as a salesman and craftsman at Tandy Leather on Sixth Avenue and 13th Street. The store closed after ten months. By 1981, he lost his apartment on West 12th Street and rented a 5’x7’ unit from Manhattan Mini Storage for his personal belongings and items kept from the Waverly Place studio. This is the origin of the Le Gip Archive.
Despite the economic instability, he continued to work in the arts. Le Gip’s clothing and photographs from the 1980s make it clear that he continued to be active, dynamic, and creative.
At some point in this period, he reinvented himself as “Spirit Eagle, Comanche Medicine Chief.” We might say that Le Gip went into storage and Spirit Eagle came out. He was not Comanche, although there is a Comanche connection. His family history includes African, Indigenous, British, French, and Creole ancestors. His claim to being a “medicine chief” was fraudulent and surely offensive, then and now, to Comanche people. As Spirit Eagle, his self-presentation was as meticulous as his earlier fashion shoots. He was proud of the fact that he always looked clean and neat, and never succumbed to the addiction or despair that affected so many people he had known who also fell on hard times.
Le Gip’s story reminds us that difficult histories are interesting to study but painful for those who lived through them. Why did Le Gip, an American who served in the U.S. Navy, invent non-U.S. identities for himself? Why did he slam the door on his life before coming to NYC, going to great lengths to obscure his family name and origins? And why did he pay monthly storage fees for thirty years to preserve the archive of his life and work?
The research for this project is ongoing. We welcome information from the public. The book project, Le Gip: Authentic by Design, will contextualize Le Gip’s choices and experiences in terms of ethnic, racial, and artistic identity as well as family dynamics and economic considerations. Stay tuned.