Hatch Show Print curator believes letterpress printing is still relevant

Jim Sherraden has been with the historic Nashville, Tenn. print shop, which has designed iconic posters of musicians, for more than 20 years.
Thursday, September 23, 2010 | 9:07 p.m. CDT; updated 6:40 p.m. CST, Thursday, November 18, 2010
Jim Sherraden, manager of Hatch Show Print in Nashville, TN, talks to students in Chamber Auditorium on Thursday as a guest speaker invited by MU's chapter of the American Institute of Graphic Artists. Hatch Show Print opened in 1879 and is one of the oldest letterpress shops in the country. Sherraden joined Hatch Show Print in 1984 and was instrumental in keeping its doors open when the Country Music Hall of Fame, the shop's owner, was considering shutting it down.

COLUMBIA-- Jim Sherraden, curator of the historic Hatch Show Print shop in Nashville, Tenn., is making magic out of a centuries-old art.

"It's like I've pulled a rabbit out of my pocket," Sherraden said of people's reactions to letterpress printing. "It's magic to see a blank piece of paper and then an image come out on it."

Sherraden, who visited MU on Thursday to talk to students about Hatch Show Print's history, said that just as the technologies behind Bluetooth and iPods mystify older generations, young people are unfamiliar with the craft of letterpress printing.

Letterpress printing involves pressing ink-covered, hand-carved blocks of wood onto paper. The resulting shapes are often intricate and need to be carved as mirror images on the blocks. The letterpress was invented by German printer Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-15th century. 

Hatch Show Print, a division of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, has designed iconic posters of musicians including Bing Crosby, Elvis Presley, Dolly Parton and the Dave Matthews Band.

Sherraden, who has been with the shop since 1984, said he doesn't have a favorite.

"My favorite poster is whatever one we finished that day before we went home because that means we're still busy," Sherraden said.

With more than 600 design jobs a year, letterpress printing appears to be going strong at the 131-year-old shop.

Sherraden feels letterpress printing is still relevant.

"Speaking as a consumer, I've witnessed that it is still interpreted and emulated everywhere, from movie typography to grocery store flyer designs," he said.

He also believes it will continue to be studied and practiced.

"Humans are process-oriented people," Sherraden said. "The more we get into a screen-saturated society, the more we will want to work with our hands."

Sherraden said an important lesson he's learned on the job is humility.

"I'm surrounded everyday by images of artists whose careers have risen and fallen," Sherraden said.

Growing up in Kansas in a family of educators, Sherraden originally wanted to be a songwriter. 

He first came to Nashville as a member of the Fort Hays State University wrestling team. Sherraden recalls passing on some of his lyrics to a person working with country musician Waylon Jennings.

The response to his songs was positive, but Sherraden joked that his music career never took off.

It was while he was attending Middle Tennessee State University that he first took a printing class. Sherraden said he fell in love with it.

By displaying his art work in Nashville restaurants, Sherraden was noticed by a professor at Vanderbilt University who took him to visit Hatch Show Print.

"We're proud of our history and proud of our contemporary work," Sherraden said of the shop where he's spent more than 25 years.

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