It’s just like riding a bike,” the art instructor tells me when I voice my apprehension. I can hear loud pants and moans coming from somewhere behind me, where there is a BDSM video exhibit, and it’s making it hard to concentrate. An overweight, middle-aged woman with short orange hair and nothing on but glasses and jewelry is stretched out on her stomach on a dais, her chin resting on her fists, looking completely relaxed even though it’s her first time naked in front of strangers.
I’m with a few other people (all couples, dammit!) at a live nude drawing class in the Erotic Heritage Museum, offered the second and last Friday of every month (sometimes along with a rope-bondage tutorial). These live nudes, unlike the ones next door at Déjà Vu, are diverse, ranging from a married couple to a pregnant woman (you can catch her in February, when she’ll be nice and round) to our model of the night, “a grandma five times over,” she proudly announces.
“Even UNLV classes won’t allow nude models. This is a museum. Eroticism is our genre,” says Dr. Laura Henkel, director of the Erotic Heritage Museum. “I look at the museum as a spiritual movement. By people exploring safely through the arts, they can learn more about themselves and others, and museums are really beneficial to society in terms of education. We have no qualms about the human body. It is not anything tainted or sordid. It is what it is.”
As I sketch and stare at the model, I start to notice the graceful curve of her breasts, her proud mouth and exquisite feet. Her posture and expression transform her into an evocative French madame, and I, cross-legged and utterly absorbed with my subject, have become a struggling, inspired artiste.