06 Jun Behind the Scenes in Nashville: Hatch Show Print
“Every poster tells a story,” remarked our guide, and that couldn’t have been more spot-on. Standing in a room filled with letter blocks covering the walls from floor to ceiling we felt a deep history seeping from every corner. Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tennessee, is a letterpress printing shop that has been in operation since 1879. Most notably, the printing shop creates posters for all the music greats that have graced the stage of the iconic Grand Ole Opry. In fact, they’ve printed posters for every single Opryland Show, dating all the way back to the Opry’s opening date in 1925.
After learning about the shop and noticing they do behind the scenes tours, I knew a tour at Hatch Show Print had to find its way onto our itinerary when both work and a visit with my cousin brought us to Nashville.
Hatch Show Print was started by a pair of brothers, Charles and Herbert Hatch. Their first project was a handbill to announce the speaker, Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, and they knocked it out of the park. They created just the right balance of elements on the poster. The rest was history. Hatch Show Print was in its heyday from the 1920’s to the 1950’s, and they were one of the leading advertising mediums during this time. They designed and printed posters and billboard sized advertisements to create excitement and generate buzz for carnivals, concerts, circuses, vaudeville acts, and even grocery stores, movie theaters, and service stations. Over the years, they have created posters for iconic acts such as Elvis Presley, Mumford & Sons, Willie Nelson, Elton John, Dolly Parton, Janet Jackson, and so many more, as well as businesses like Fossil and the U.S. Postal Service.
Originally, Hatch Show Print was located directly behind the Ryman Auditorium, then it moved to lower Broadway in 1992 when it became part of the Country Music Hall of Fame. Eventually, in 2013, the shop moved to 5thAvenue South when the Country Music Hall of Fame underwent an expansion project. Today, the space allows visitors to browse the onsite shop, learn about the company’s history, observe the designers and printers at work, and even participate in activities like the tour we went on!
Our behind the scenes tour of Hatch Show Print began right outside the shop where there are giant windows overlooking the printing floor, and soon it was time to move inside for a closer look at the facility.
Inside the printing area, we learned all about how the shop’s designer-printers create and design the prints. We learned the basic techniques and styles of letterpress printing, how they create the layers of colors and paint, how they hand carve the blocks, and all about the history of the shop. On a very basic level, letterpress prints are created by pressing paper onto carved blocks with ink in between. By utilizing the white space on a paper, designers can create multiple layers of colors in their design. The wooden and metal blocks are carved into letters and images, and the blocks are used again and again, year after year. The wear and tear on the blocks create depth and a weathered texture that transfers right onto the paper.
Once we learned all about the history of Hatch Show Print, it was time to try our hand at screen printing a poster ourselves. We filed into a room lined with tables, posters and a letterpress machine. After some instruction from our guide, we all took a turn at the wheel.
We rolled the paint onto the letters, put the paper in the printer, and then rolled the roller over the paper. Due to the time and nature of the tour, we weren’t able to design our own piece, but it was fun to get a feel for the process nonetheless! Plus, it was neat to notice all the little differences in each of our prints—letterpress really does give you the ability to create a handmade look and feel.
The last stop of our tour was the gift shop. After a brief overview of the store, we were left to our own devices. Micah and I enjoyed browsing the leftover posters from past concerts while reminiscing which of those bands we’ve seen in concert ourselves.
Next time we are in town, we will definitely make it a point to catch a show on the iconic stage of the Grand Ole Opry. And, you better believe we will have to come home with our own piece of letterpress history from Hatch Show Print.