"Advertising without posters is like fishing without worms". —The Hatch Brothers
There's something about the simplicity and style of letterpress prints that evokes a sense of history, of southern culture, and of small-town entertainment. The revival of letterpress as an art form has much to do with a handful of Tennessee companies who use traditional letterpress to express new trends and explore cultural boundaries.
Hatch Show Print, one of America's oldest working letterpress shops, established the look of vintage handbills and show prints in its early years. It began when dad William, who ran a print shop in Wisconsin, moved his family to Nashville. His sons Charles and Herbert learned printmaking and opened their own shop in 1879, using the painstaking print process dating to the 15th century. Their first job was a handbill for a speech by the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher. Over the years, Hatch has produced advertisements for the great jazz and blues performers as well as for gas stations and ball games, using simple woodblock images, snazzy slogans and typography to sell the excitement of the show, the game, or the sale. Located behind the Ryman Auditorium for 67 years, Hatch became the go-to print shop for the "Mother Church" of country music, producing posters featuring everyone from Hank Williams Sr. and Johnny Cash in previous decades to Coldplay and The Strokes today. Gaylord Entertainment bought Hatch and donated it to the Country Music Foundation in 1992. A Smithsonian exhibit of Hatch prints began traveling the country in October and will visit 13 museums over the next four years.
Yee-Haw Industries of Knoxville is the brain child of graphic designers and artists Julie Belcher and Kevin Bradley, who both studied art at the University of Tennessee before opening a letterpress shop in a Kentucky barn. They used salvaged antique equipment to create vibrant prints of country music stars and larger than life regional characters. In 1998 they moved into a century-old building in downtown Knoxville, "just a few doors down from where Hank Sr. was last seen alive." As their folk art and woodcut prints such as their Loretta Lynn poster became icons of style in the region, newer musical artists like Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Southern Culture on the Skids and Buddy Guy came their way. Now their client roster includes such names as Ralph Lauren, The Wall Street Journal, the National Gallery of Art and Cartoon Network. As Yee-Haw has continued to explore innovative uses for letterpress and to produce fine art prints, the studio has become a downtown attraction, and the founders spend much of their time lecturing and judging art competitions across the country.
Isle of Printing, which opened in Nashville in 1997, seeks to help preserve letterpress printing for use in today's world. Founder Bryce McCloud trained at Hatch Show Print before opening his own shop with equipment from his uncle, who is also a letterpress printer and works as curator for the Tennessee State Museum. Isle of Printing is a working museum, preserving the traditional skills that go into making handmade prints. Isle of Printing has a collection of equipment and type that comes from throughout the U.S. and is used in art and commercial design.
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