Hatch Show Print letterpress shop has created original art for carnivals, vaudeville acts, advertisements and countless musicians. The iconic Nashville institution has generated work for legends like Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley as well as modern artists such as Sturgill Simpson, Brian Newman and The Kills. Hatch preserves the art of traditional printing by designing and producing around 500 to 600 posters each year and educating audiences through its gallery and print-shop tours.
From their very first print job—a handbill announcing the appearance of Rev. Henry Ward Beecher (brother of American abolitionist and author Harriet Beecher Stowe)—the Hatch brothers focused on simplicity, the effortless balance between type size and style, vertical and horizontal layout. Hatch captured the glory of great African-American jazz and blues entertainers like Cab Calloway and Bessie Smith, too. From their early designs to recent releases for major acts touring today, each Hatch poster carries within it a distinct whiff of American history, southern culture, and thrilling entertainment.
At Hatch, the designer is the printer. A designer-printer sees each job through from start to finish, which entails sketching the poster, typesetting the copy, incorporating imagery as required (either pulling from Hatch’s collection or carving a new image) and discussing the design with the client. Once the client approves the design, Hatch prints posters individually, one hand-mixed color at a time, one piece of paper at a time. The process does not have a digital component, except when a designer incorporates a logo or photograph. Each designer-printer juggles a handful of jobs at once, with the deadline for each job dictating his or her agenda for the day. “We all work independently,” says Shop Manager Celene Aubry. “To the outsider, it might look a little bit like chaos, on some days.”
The shop is laid out so that designing and poster building happens in one area. Most of Hatch Show Print’s ten presses are in a separate space, close to a wall of windows, so that visitors can see the prints coming off of the presses. At least three times a day, up to twenty-five attendees stop by on led tours where they learn about the history of Hatch, smell the ink, watch the presses in action and pull their own commemorative print in Hatch’s Space for Design classroom. Monoprints, created by Jim Sherraden, master printer and curator at Hatch Show Print, can be purchased and viewed in Hatch’s Haley Gallery.
Hatch Show Print’s impressive letterpress type collection includes type as small as one-sixth of an inch and as large as eighty inches. The studio uses the same type that the founding brothers, Charles and Herbert Hatch, purchased or made as they were building the business, plus any type that Will T. Hatch, Charles’s son, purchased for the shop after he took over the business in 1921.
New type has not been added to the collection. “It all works very well together, and introducing new type might dilute the distinctive look that Hatch Show Print is known for,” Celene says. “Most of the type in the shop is gothic or sans serif, as that is the most legible type for making posters and billboards that might have been seen from a moving train, car, bus or wagon.”
Hatch works with approximately 200 different clients each year, including local businesses, the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum (Hatch’s sister organization), planners who bring events and conferences to Nashville, and the artists, venues, producers, promoters and labels who put on live-touring entertainment acts each year.
The shop also designs and prints posters for nearly all of the shows at the Ryman Auditorium—a genre-crossing, world-renowned performance hall, known as the Carnegie of the South.
This past summer, the Hatch crew went on tour with the Goo Goo Dolls, designing and printing a limited-edition run of posters for each of their 48 shows in North America. Each poster was different and celebrated the show’s location, the band, and the shop’s collection.
Hatch Show Print’s timeless aesthetic bridges the gap between past and present, teaching visitors to look at graphic design and typography in new and old ways. Following its motto of preservation through production, the team continues to construct one-of-a-kind designs that celebrate American culture.
What’s that you say? You’ve been meaning to plan a trip to Nashville huh? Well now you have the perfect excuse to head to one of America’s Most Hospitable Cities. Can’t make it to Music City but still want to get your hands on one of these sweet prints, like the linocut poster of Patsy Cline? Many of them are available for sale online.
Emily Davidson Nemoy is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn. When she’s not at her computer or on her yoga mat, she can be found at live music venues happily spending her excess cash on concert tickets.