Hope and stillness. Quiet and light.
These are the themes that run throughout the art and life of David Arms. That story — what David believes, who he is and what he creates — is contained (for the moment) in a 900-square-foot gallery in the bucolic town of Leiper’s Fork in Tennessee. It’s displayed on the 100-year-old barn walls, on its shelves, and artfully arranged on antique tables. But it’s a tale that is beginning to spill beyond those walls.
THE STORY BEGINS
If you were in the special events industry in the eighties and nineties you may remember the events designed by David Arms with producer Patsy Bruce for American Honda and the Swan Ball, a white-tie gala benefiting Cheekwood, events David designed and produced for years. Each event was a total environment, each more spectacular than the next, each with an attention to detail and design that no one in this industry had seen or even imagined possible before them. I was lucky to attend many of these events when I was traveling for Special Events magazine and covering the industry.
His talent was special, that was a given. But beyond that, thanks to his southern upbringing, his faith, or gentle spirit (or all of the above), he also had a very grounded way of seeing the beauty in everything. When he began to create art pieces in what little spare time he had, it wasn’t a surprise that in 1996, after designing an exquisite Erte-style Gala Ceremony environment in Las Vegas, that David said goodbye to the industry in a thoughtful acceptance speech for what would be his last of his many, many Gala Awards for design.
CHAPTERS TWO, THREE, FOUR…
A native of Tennessee, David set up shop as an artist near Nashville and, with his wife Michelle, began a business and a family, both of which are now thriving.
Yet it wasn’t until three and a half years ago that David Arms, the brand, began to come together. “I had been toying with the opening my own gallery, but couldn’t get all the pieces to feel right, especially the location,” he said. “Then, in Leiper’s Fork, one of my favorite places ever, a 100-year-old barn was being renovated. It had been committed to someone else but for one reason or another became available to me. It just fit my story and who I am. Plus I was able to have some say in its renovation. It’s me, only made over.”
Which means it’s warm, inviting and comfortable, filled with art, and those things that David loves. “I’ve curated everything in here, down to the books I love here. You hear how books are dying but we are proving them wrong. We sell books like you can’t believe!”
There is a David Arms tie collection, (a collaboration with the nationally known Otis James in Nashville), and a note card collection with his artwork which allows people who can’t afford the art to still be able to share it with others. There are candles, and there is even a scent aptly named “Studio” and labeled with his art. Laughing, David said, “We sell art and items online and when people would get packages from us, they’d say it came with the studio scent. So we had someone create that. All of these things are natural to me so it doesn’t seem too odd to me.”
Yet he acknowledges it wasn’t something he set out to do. “I’m a move-ahead guy,” he acknowledged, “But so much has happened that I could never have even dreamed about or planned. I try to stay wide open and flexible, but also with a sense of direction.” And funny enough, the direction he was headed for after he got off the phone with me was to get an 20-person al fresco dinner ready that would be held in the field outside the studio. Nothing like what he used to do for Honda, and yet, perhaps even more special.
David has done what many creative, ambitious people hope — he has made the passions that drive him his life. What sets him apart from other artists who might not have done so, he mused, is that while talent is important, motivation and discipline is the key. Change might seem scary or hard to explain at the time it’s happening, but in hindsight, all the pieces of the puzzle fit perfectly.
On his website, David quotes from the Wendell Berry novel, Jayber Crow as a way to explain himself and his life. “Nearly everything that has happened to me has happened by surprise.” Like Crow, nearly everything that has happened to David has surprised him, and all in a very good way.