The Old Print Shop

John Taylor Arms


John Taylor Arms was born in Washington, D.C., on April 19, 1887.  He began his higher education as a law student at Princeton University in 1905 but transferred to Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1907 to study architecture.  He apprenticed as an architectural draftsman before opening an architectural firm with Cameron Clark as a partner in 1914.  In 1913 he married Dorothy Noyes and as a Christmas present that year, she gave him an etching kit.  At first, he took up etching as a hobby, mastering the technique by copying European masters.  He published his first print, Sunlight and Shadow, in 1915.  During WWI he served in the Navy and in 1919 decided to give up his career as an architect and dedicated himself to art, primarily etching, for the remainder of his life.  

Arms was one of the more famous printmakers of the first half of the twentieth-century.  He is well known for his medieval architectural etchings and precise realism.  From his prints one can see his belief that Gothic architecture was man’s greatest achievement.  Throughout his career he produced over four hundred prints, wrote and illustrated numerous books, on both travel and printmaking, including Churches of France; Hill Towns and Cities of Northern Italy; Design in Flower Arrangement; and a Handbook on Printmaking and Printmakers.

As a printmaker he was mostly self-taught.  Although self-taught his expertise as an etcher was without equal.  He would often hone down photograph needles to create lines that need high powered magnification to see.  The effect is to give the gothic architecture a texture and a feeling of life that few others could achieve.  

John Taylor Arms was a member of the Chicago Society of Etchers, the Print society of England, the Canadian Painter Etchers, the Associe de la Society des Beaux-Arts, Paris, and served as the president of the Society of American Etchers (now known as SAGA) two times once in the 1920 and again in the 1940’s.  It is also important to point out that he was highly regarded by his fellow artists.

John Taylor Arms work can be found in most museums across the United States and Europe, including the Metropolitan Museum, The New York Public Library, The Library of Congress, the British Museum and the Bibiotheque Nationale, Paris.  Recently the Cleveland Museum of Art in Cleveland, Ohio received a generous donation of material from the Arms estate, that along with their already impressive collection makes them one of the largest holdings of John Taylor Arms’ work.