Though artist John Taylor Arms was formally trained as an architect at MIT, he discovered that his passion lied not in designing buildings, but etching them. Arms uncovered his true calling after receiving an etching set for Christmas from his wife in 1913, just before he went to serve in WWI.
"She gave him an etching kit thinking it would be a fun hobby for him," says Jane Glaubinger, the exhibit curator for the Cleveland Museum of Art's Modern Gothic: The Etchings of John
Taylor Arms. "By the time he came back from WWI he decided he would rather be a full-time professional printmaker than continue a career in architecture."
When the 60-piece exhibit opens June 9, it will include prints, copperplates and drawings, which detail the laborious process Arms undertook to achieve his final product. Arms' creations are so meticulous that museum visitors will be provided magnifying glasses to view the intricate details.
"When you see the prints in the flesh there is such fine detail that I thought people would enjoy not only looking at the basic image, but enjoy seeing the fine detail," Glaubinger says.
Arms' quest for perfection was not only evident in his art — some etchings took more than 1,000 hours to complete — but also in the process that went into creating it. "Paper was important to him, the craftsmanship of picking beautiful paper, and he always mixed his own ink," Glaubinger says. "He didn't use the etching needles you could buy. Instead he set fine gauge sewing needles into wooden handles and used magnifying glasses to get the intense detail he liked."
A religious man, Arms is best known for his depictions of gothic cathedrals in France and throughout Europe.
"That really inspired him, which is why I think the etchings are so beautiful and go beyond just being copies of the architecture," Glaubinger says. "He wanted to make these prints to hopefully better mankind in his own day and age. He felt if people could enjoy looking at these prints, they would sort of catch the spirit in which they were made, and they were made in God's glory."