On a recent visit to Nashville’s Hatch Show Print, my gaze drifted from the wall of show posters that command attention to a man dressed in dark clothes rhythmically sweeping the floor. There was something about the way that he performed the simple task that made me feel like I was witnessing a sacred ritual.
My Hatch curiosity continued after leaving and I had to learn more about this iconic design destination, one of the oldest letterpress print shops in America, established in 1879. In the heyday of the twentieth century, Hatch flourished as posters were the prime way to advertise entertainment. Today, you walk around Nashville, and Hatch is as much a part of the city as the music that seeps from every nook and cranny, drawing flocks of tourists and fans. And at the end of a big concert, it’s likely that the show poster spectators take home as memorabilia is by Hatch Show Print.
As I looked up information about the official tours Hatch offers of its studio, I stumbled upon a picture of Jim Sherraden, master printer and curator, and my jaw dropped as it was the same man I saw sweeping the floor. “That’s one of my favorite things to do. … I appreciate the simplicity of sweeping the floors,” he says. “If anyone asks ‘what’s the secret to your success as an artist’ … I start with a clean workspace.”
Preservation Through Production
It’s that blue-collar work ethic that’s inspires their motto “preservation through production” and has helped Hatch not just persevere, but flourish. “We’re the antithesis of digital design. We offer a product that’s not only American, but indigenous to Nashville,” Sherraden says. “[Over the years] the Hatch poster ceased becoming a functional ‘tell you’ or ‘sell you’ item and became, instead, a commemorative take-home token of a concert sold at the show, limited-edition, made in Nashville. And we are hardly able to keep up from here on out the past 30 years.”
Sherraden joined Hatch in 1984 and ran it for 29 years, but he’s handed over a lot of the day-to-day business to a shop manager, Celene Aubry, which frees him up to get to the press nearly every day, as well as sweep the floors, of course. “Just once in my life, I want to catch my long grey beard in the print roller. I can’t do that behind a desk,” Sherraden says.
About two years ago, a nonprofit division of the Country Music Hall of Fame allocated 9,000 square feet to Hatch Show Print, including a large print shop, a store with towering wall space, and Hatch Show Print’s Haley Gallery. This joining of forces seemed to be written in the stars considering the close-knit relationship Hatch has always had with the music scene. “We can’t believe our good fortune. Serendipity,” Sherraden says. “The fact that we have a really nice gallery speaks volumes for our parent company and for the reputation of this institution.”
A Rockin’ Collaboration
The gallery is put to good use, too. CMH often partners with artists who also are musicians for various initiatives. In 2014, renowned Chicago artist and musician Jon Langford teamed up with the Country Music Hall of Fame for its exhibit Dylan, Cash, and the Nashville Cats: A New Music City, a two-year exhibit at CMH. Langford is known for his portraits of the music greats, like Hank Williams, Johnny Cash, and Elvis. “With Hatch’s arrival in the museum complex … and the success of the National Cats exhibit, it only seemed logical to expand the definition of artist in residence to include a collaboration between Jon, the painter, and Jim, the printmaker,” Sherraden says.
So Langford came back to Nashville this past September and worked alongside Sherraden and the Hatch team to create a dreamlike, limited edition monoprint featuring the lyrics to “Girl from the North Country,” written by Bob Dylan, and recorded in Nashville as a duet with Johnny Cash in 1969. “Its vibrant imagery lends itself to letterpress. And it’s a favorite song of mine,” Sherraden says. “When he (Jon) came into the shop, he and I got right to work. He learned pretty much to carve on his feet.”
The new collaborative piece was unveiled Saturday, October 3, at Hatch Show Print’s Haley Gallery during Nashville’s monthly Saturday Art Crawl. In addition to the new work, the gallery is featuring original work by Langford October 3 to November 8, 2015.
“Jon’s technique and mine are very similar. Central imagery. Layers of color and information. Once we knew what we were illustrating—the lyrics—it’s been a hand-in-hand operation. Deciding the imagery, pulling archival imagery, carving new imagery, carving new blocks, discussing the design—equal partners,” says Sherraden. “We haven’t held hands yet … but don’t rule that out.”
It’s no wonder the two hit it off like old friends as they are just 90 days apart in their time on Earth and pride themselves on taking a hands-on approach when creating. “We both have low ego, and high work ethic. We do our own work—unlike many of today’s younger artists. We are the designers and the printers,” he says.