A wall of Hatch Show Print one-sheet posters at the Chelsea Space show
Nashville’s Hatch Show Print is a 134 year-old letterpress print shop that has found a way to turn the challenges of our digital world to its advantage
Hatch’s best-selling print
Last night saw the opening of Nashville Calling, the first UK exhibition of the work of Hatch Show Print. The private view at Chelsea Space was preceded by a talk for students at Chelsea College of Art by Hatch manager, archivist and chief designer Jim Sherraden.
A handcarved Hatch woodblock
And the print from it
Hatch designs, prints and sells posters set using woodblock type and handcarved images, handcranked on its own presses. It works in a dying medium, using outdated tools. And yet it is busier than it has ever been.
Hatch opened in 1879. Its history has mirrored that of the entertainment industry in the southern US. Its first clients were the travelling shows which crisscrossed the country, as well as silent movie houses, carnivals and rodeo shows as well as country music stars and advertising for local businesses. As the old travelling shows died out, Hatch switched to printing posters for an exciting new clientele – Rock ‘n’ Roll bands.
It still works in the music business today. And while BB King is Hatch’s biggest client, it now attracts a new, younger wave of musicians who treasure the authenticity of a Hatch print and the chance that their poster might be made using the self-same type that once featured on a poster for Elvis, Bessie Smith or Johnny Cash.
The Smithsonian advised Hatch to insure an original of this Elvis poster for $250,000
Sherraden started at Hatch in 1984. The business was on its last legs with debts of more than $100,000. It now has a staff of ten, producing some 600 print jobs a year for many of the leading names in the music business. It’s not a museum, it’s a working design and print shop.
The digital revolution should have been the final nail in Hatch’s coffin. Instead, Sherraden said, it had been the best thing that ever happened to Hatch because it allowed the shop to find its niche. Hatch’s posters went from being functional to being celebratory. They exist not to advertise an event but to be sold at the event as a memento. While record labels spend less money on album artowrk, bands have become increasingly reliant on merchandise sales – Hatch has been able to ride that wave to its advantage.
Hatch has also been very smart about its archive. Sherraden made an early decision not to add any new type. All future posters would be produced using the existing stock of wood type, thereby keeping the distinctive Hatch aesthetic undiluted as well as offering new clients a direct link to the romance of its past. Nor does Hatch allow any of its typefaces to be digitised, ensuring that it is the only source.
In 1992, Sherraden began creating his own monoprints using the existing woodblock illustrations and photo plates. He recontextualised and gave new life to these wonderful artworks. Here, for example, is a vintage Hatch poster for Johnny Cash
And here is Sherraden’s Warhol-influenced print
While this print features one of Hatch’s largest typefaces
And this is made up of eyes from a multitude of old woodblocks
Hatch also works for commercial clients. Department store Nordstrom used it to advertise its opening in a Nashville mall
Hatch designed packaging for the Pittsburgh Popcorn Co
While an ad campaign for Taylor guitars photographed its type
As Sherraden stressed, at Hatch the designer is the printer and the printer the designer. This is a holistic operation providing the control that so many seek. Hatch designs, makes and sells its work. It’s a model that will hold great appeal for many young designers.
And Hatch has turned negatives into positives. When first offset printing and latterly the digital revolution came along, Hatch could easily have disappeared for good. Instead, it has turned these changes to its advantage, revelling in our inate need for tactile objects – as Sherraden says, it is the antidote to our digital world.
Hatch has just moved into a custom-built new space with a bigger print shop (above), a gallery and a space for running workshops. It is owned by the Country Musuc Hall of Fame which provides support and clients via its Ryman Auditorium shows.
Merchandising deals with the likes of Fossil watches, for whom Hatch collaborated on packaging (Fossil made the film below) may also provide the additional revenue it needs to help sustain its future well-being, but great care will need to be taken in terms of finding appropriate partners to work with.
In the meantime, if you can, get down to the small but rather wonderful Chelsea Space show (on until December 14) to see some Hatch gems, old and new, in their inky glory.
There will be a major feature on Hatch Show Print in the December issue of Creative Review, out November 21