Those duplicitous Mad Men and their slinky secretaries turned advertising and promotion into a seduction, shedding antiquated typesetting methods to reveal modern, offset screen prints. Afterward, full-on digitalization was merely a miniskirt and a corner office away. Except at Hatch Show Print, the 132-year-old Nashville, Tenn., print company where poster art for ads and events was — and still is — cranked out Luddite style, with woodblock carvings and alphabet blocks. Back in the day, Hatch posters were used to advertise circuses, minstrel shows and vaudevilles. Today, they’re used to promote everything from rock concerts (Taylor Swift’s Fearless tour) to political events (the 2008 presidential debates). All the more reason to get Hatch manager and chief designer Jim Sherraden’s take on how a design dinosaur continues to thrive in the age of digital dominion.
American Way: Hatch is still around and an institution of sorts. Why?
Jim Sherraden: We’ve had a lot of hand-holding from the Country Music Hall of Fame — and we still do things the same way Charles and Herbert Hatch did. [They] started the shop in 1879, and then their nephew/son, William T., took over the shop and oversaw the carving of hundreds of woodblocks. We do restrikes of those blocks to create print for our posters. William also purchased alphabet blocks from Hamilton Manufacturing Company in Two Rivers, Wis., a working museum; that’s the type we use. People are drawn to the handmade look of our prints because we are the antithesis of digital design. We’ve become a destination for folks who want to glimpse culture and Nashville history.
AW: What are some items in the shop that have cultural and historical significance?
JS: We have two pieces of wood from a shelf in the original shop; turned-over poster blocks carved with Franklin Roosevelt’s image; and several small, card-size items, including a ticket to see Cab Calloway and a ticket to see Jackie Wilson.
AW: What’s a typical day at Hatch Show Print?
JS: We do about 600 jobs a year, and there’s an unusual circumstance nearly every day. Once, we did a print for Paul McCartney’s Nashville tour date while working on a poster for Ringo Starr playing the same week the next state over. I would guess about 50,000 folks come though the front door each year. We don’t give organized tours — it would be like touring a restaurant kitchen during supper.
AW: What are the elements that define a Hatch poster?
JS: Many of our posters feature Gothic typeface. What makes a good print is how that typeface and the carved images complement each other. Sometimes we use carved images from yesteryear. For McCartney’s poster, we used carvings of stars from the Tennessee flag that we’d done for an ad when the Tennessee quarter was introduced.
AW: How do you keep letterpress relevant for the next generation?
JS: Many universities are reintroducing letterpress into graphic-design curricula. ... I don’t think letterpress should replace digital design; they can coexist. But I do think a graphic-design education that includes letterpress will yield a better-rounded digital designer.
Most Iconic/ Best-Selling Poster
“Triple Johnny” (pictured left), which depicts three figures of Johnny Cash.
Most Expensive Original Art
$7,000, printed from historic woodblocks. It measures 5 feet by 10 feet and hangs in a private home in Tennessee.
Most Memorable Poster
An R.E.M. poster from the early ’90s, which kicked off Hatch’s re-entry into the worldwide contemporary entertainment industry. And the 19th-century baseball-player poster, restruck from broken-up slivers of wood, a request from the Smithsonian.