Design & Print | Tennessee Vacation

Design & Print

The simplicity and style of letterpress prints evoke a sense of history, Southern culture and small-town entertainment. The revival of letterpress as an art form can thank Tennessee companies who set new standards in using traditional letterpress to express new trends and explore cultural boundaries.

Hatch Show Print, one of Americas oldest working letterpress shops, established the look of vintage handbills and show prints in its early years when dad William 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. 

Yee-Haw Industries, now closed, set a fire under letterpress fans in Knoxville. Yee Haw was the brainchild 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. Before closing their shop in 2013, their client roster included Ralph Lauren, The Wall Street Journal, the National Gallery of Art and Cartoon Network. 

Today, new shops are beginning to make an appearance. Status Serigraph is the acclaimed graphic design and poster work of Justin Helton. Phish, the Avett Brothers, My Morning Jacket, the Black Keys and other groups have sought Helton out for the unique blend of design, illustration and typography on his hand-printed posters.

Isle of Printing, which opened in Nashville in 1997, seeks to help preserve letterpress printing for use in todays 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.

A new entry in the Nashville scene is Midtown Printing, which does letterpress printing as well as digital work and binding.