By Steve Wilkison, Associate Professor, Department of Graphic Design at Watkins College of Art, Design & Film
The sense of history that engulfs you as you walk through the door is almost overwhelming. Posters cover almost every square inch of available space on the walls. Many of them date back fifty, sixty years or more. Shelves are stuffed to the breaking point with thick wooden printing plates. Cabinets full of metal and wooden type surround you on all sides. There’s not a computer in sight. Activity swirls from every direction. Someone is pouring small puddles of ink on a large table. Words and phrases are being assembled on a tray using ancient letters made of metal. Large pieces of heavy paper are being stacked at the end of printing press operated, not by electricity, but by a large wheel with a handle. You might think you’ve walked into some type of museum or antique shop, but the truth is you are in the heart of one of America’s most celebrated, most historic and most active letterpress shops, Hatch Show Print. Today eleven students and faculty members from Watkins College of Art, Design & Film are on hand for a one day summer workshop that is undoubtedly one of the highlights of their academic experience.
Hatch Show Print has been creating iconic American posters since 1879. Over the years they created memorable posters for everyone from Hank Williams and Johnny Cash to Garth Brooks and Taylor Swift. In the early years their posters were used to promote minstrel shows, circuses and vaudeville acts across the country. They create their posters using a technique know as “letterpress.” Text and images are carved in reverse onto wood or metal blocks and then inked. A sheet of paper is then pressed onto the blocks to create the final result. It’s a technique that dates back to the mid 1400′s and Johannes Gutenberg. Almost lost in the late 1900′s as computers and technology moved the printing process in a decidedly “digital” direction, recent years have seen a resurgence of interest in the process, with Hatch Show Print proudly leading the way.
Over the past few years Hatch has been generous enough to open its doors to a small, select group of Graphic Design students from Watkins on one Saturday in July. The workshop, led by Hatch manager/curator/chief designer Jim Sherraden, gives students invaluable, hands-on experience working with wooden type, printers ink, letterpress machines and much more. In this day of iPads, iPhones, computers and digital art, this experience in traditional letterpress printing is vitally important in the development of aspiring designers and artists, offering them an experience that is not only unique but inspiring.
This year Hatch hosted eleven participants on July 14th. Each student was given the opportunity to create two posters and a T-shirt during the day. After a short presentation on the history of the shop, students were given some instructions on working with the vast array of carved wooden blocks and allowed to create several poster completely on their own, after which they spent some time creating and printing a T-shirt as a souvenir of the day.
The main project for the day was a large poster dedicated to celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Rolling Stones. Hatch Show Print has a long and revered history of working with musicians and bands all over the world, so this theme seemed quite fitting. Each student created a poster based on a classic Rolling Stones’ song, such as “Paint It Black,” “Wild Horses” or “Dead Flowers.” Using a variety of wooden and metal type, image blocks, colorful ink and brayers (hand rollers for applying the ink to the blocks) the participants channeled their creativity onto the paper, with truly impressive results.
The posters from this year’s workshop will be on display in the Watkins Brownlee O. Currey, Jr. Gallery from August 10th to the 23rd. A reception will be held on the evening of Thursday, August 23rd from 5:00pm to 7:00pm