PRESERVATION THROUGH PRODUCTION: JIM SHERRADEN KEEPS LETTERPRESS PRINTING ALIVE WITH OHIO STATE DESIGN STUDENTS
by Cecelia Bellomy
Over the years, many printmaking companies have gone digital or disbanded in the wake of technological advances, leaving letterpress printing equipment to be sold, thrown out, or simply forgotten. This is not true for of all presses, however, and it certainly is not true of Hatch Show Print. The vintage and digital worlds collided recently when Jim Sherraden, manager of Hatch Show Print in Nashville, came to visit the Ohio State Department of Design.
Sherraden and TRI’s Curtiss Show Print Collection Materials
This visit was held in the Thompson Library Special Collections Reading Room on February 20th for Peter Chan’s Intro to Visual Communication Design II class for the Department of Design second-year undergraduates, but a wide range of graduate students and faculty also came to experience what was an incredible opportunity for anyone interested in letterpress printmaking, promotional art, or design in general. Sherraden gave a special lecture using the TRI’s Curtiss Show Print Collection to talk about the art of letterpress printing and then examined the second-year students’ letterpress work, giving praise and advice and using the archival prints for context.
Hatch Show Print Master Printer
In addition to being master printer for Hatch Show Print where he has worked since the mid-eighties, Sherraden is an active visual artist exploring the aesthetic potential of the historical printing resources of the press. Before Sherraden came to Hatch, it looked like its doors may be about to close permanently. After its establishment by Charles R. and Herbert H. Hatch in 1875, Hatch Show Print (at that time CR and HH Hatch) steadily became a major name in show printing and had its heyday from the mid-1920s to the early fifties under the ownership of Charles’ son Will Hatch. The press took jobs as vast and varied as country, bluegrass, and, eventually, rock concerts, advertising for companies and movies, and promotional materials for travelling diversions like minstrel shows and circuses. (This was the common work for show printers at that time, including Curtiss Show Print from Continental, Ohio. See the Curtiss Collection for examples of show prints from Curtiss.) However, after Will’s death, the company ownership changed hands many times, and this coupled with the increasing digitalization of the medium threatened to put Hatch out of business. Jim Sherraden came to the company at the perfect moment, revitalizing it and shepherding it through its purchase by Gaylord Entertainment (owners of The Grand Ole Opry) and donation to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in 1992.
Jim is a celebrity in the printmaking world and a major figure in the revival letterpress printing has found in the last few years. He believes in preserving the manual labor and homespun quality of non-digital printing in a philosophy he describes as “preservation through production.” Hatch Show Print embodies this philosophy, continuing to take orders for musical acts, tours, businesses, and product promotion, doing 500-600 jobs each year.
OSU Design Undergrads
The Ohio State design undergrads are used to working primarily with digital printmaking, though their recent projects were letterpress, so getting to meet with Sherraden provided the opportunity to not only improve their own work, but to learn from the history of their craft. Sherraden himself was introduced to Hatch by a college instructor who admired his exhibit of linocuts and woodblock carvings, so perhaps one of these second-year students will one day credit Sherraden’s visit and instruction as the beginning of their own career in design.
The TRI would like to say thank you to Columbus Society of Communicating Arts for bringing Jim Sherraden to Columbus in the first place for a sold-out presentation at the Gateway Film Institute and a workshop with Igloo Press in Worthington.