From inspiration to ink
In 1879, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s brother, Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, spoke in Nashville, Tenn., and a small, letterpress print shop owned by brothers Charles and Herbert Hatch created a playbill for the event. Seventy-six years later, the shop produced some of the first concert posters for Elvis Presley. Today, posters from Hatch Show Print cover the streets of Nashville and the walls of music fans across the country, advertising the weekend’s concerts as well as infamous performances by music legends from decades past.
One of the oldest letterpress print shops in the country, Hatch Show Print has made posters for everything from laundry detergent and coffee to renowned musicians such as Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Duke Ellington and The Rolling Stones. Located a few blocks from the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, the original home of the Grand Ole Opry, the shop still uses moveable type and still immortalizes music history with hand-operated presses. This connection between creating some of the most widely-recognized poster art and preserving history is one Hatch Show artist Jim Sherraden feels is vital.
"Our motto is ‘preservation through production.’ I try to balance my archival responsibility with my print-making responsibility," he said. "I’m interested in keeping ink on the blocks and dust off."
When Sherraden joined Hatch Show Print in 1984, he knew it was where he belonged.
"I needed this shop as much as the shop needed me. I had just finished college, I was 26, I was still thinking as an academic, I was still thinking as a student," Sherraden said. "And while I had no graphic design classes – I was merely yet another garden-variety English major – I had a very strong sense of the value of history. When I got the job here it made complete sense probably just because I had finished writing 20 term papers – to start interviewing the old employees and to start collecting the history of the shop because I was moved in a visceral capacity when I realized that all of these blocks and the Bessie Smith letters and Hank Williams pictures and Elvis Presley photographs were all relatively left in tact, even though the shop had been rifled through a little bit in the 60s and 70s. I felt a connection as if I had fallen from the sky with ink in my eye when I walked into this place."
Sherraden works with team of 7 designers on approximately 600 jobs a year. The shop is a non-profit organization operated by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum. Tonight, Sherraden will speak at Get Pressed, a scholarship benefit for the School of Art’s graphic communication students. Sponsored by the Graphic Alumni Partnership of the University of Houston, the event will feature live music by local band Low Budget Thrillers and poster art from Hatch Show Print.
"Students are so important to me," Sherraden said. "We bring in interns on a yearly basis because we want them to have a chance to learn design typography from the ground up, and also they’re able to learn communication. So, the soapbox that I get on – and I’ll get on it in Houston – is: get a part-time job in a print shop to familiarize yourself. It doesn’t have to be letterpress, but learn about the printing aspect of it so that you know what happens to your job that you spent Thanksgiving and Christmas getting right. If there’s a horse race between two designers whose portfolios stand out to the ad agency, if I were sitting behind the desk I would hire the person who had printing experience. And it makes sense. That’s the bring-it-home punch, that’s the hook-line to the entire presentation, is the printing.
"It’s the finished product someone else is creating, and that’s why you need to know about what that person does. The human element to the entire design is that person, that man or woman who’s actually putting the ink on the paper," he said.
Sherraden doesn’t set apart graphic designers from printers, and encourages graphic design students to learn as much about the printing process as possible.
"I never called myself a designer and I know all the old guys in the blue collars who brought their lunch boxes to work never called themselves designers. It’s just the era that we live in that makes us call ourselves designers," he said. "Also, the fact that the staff is half my age, with their design degrees, they are graphic designers, so they’re bringing the title to the job, and it seems necessary to explain to people that ‘the printer’s the designer, the designer’s the printer’ because of the naivety on the part of some of our customers. ‘How do you do it? Do I send you a jpeg? Who designs it?’ I try to have quick and easy answers… just to clarify whose responsibility it is."
The graphic communication program at UH is designed to teach students not just the elements and techniques of good design, but the history and background of it as well. With the historic presses and blocks Hatch Show Print uses, this relationship is inevitable for Sherraden.
"Bottom line: one wants to take advantage of this incredible archive, and the only way to do that is to familiarize themselves with the blockings, in terms of typeface, and to make the best possible poster as a result of their familiarity with the archives," Sherraden said.
Posters from the shop and the book, Hatch Show Print: The History of a Great American Poster Shop, co-written by Sherraden, will be on sale at tonight’s event, and proceeds from ticket sales will go toward the scholarships for graphic communication students, which will be awarded tonight. Get Pressed will be held from 6 to 9 p.m. at Rockefeller Hall, 3620 Washington Ave. Admission if free for alumni and $10 for others.