New Smithsonian Traveling Exhibition Celebrates American Graphic Art Tradition of Hatch Show Print

June 27, 2008
News Release

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“Advertising without posters is like fishing without worms.” —The Hatch Brothers

This sentiment was certainly true in 1879 when brothers Herbert H. and Charles R. Hatch opened Hatch Show Print, a printing shop in Nashville, Tenn. Their handcrafted posters screamed slogans such as “More Power, More Pep,” “So Many Girls You Can’t Count Them All” and “Always Clean, Always Good.” Almost 130 years later, Hatch posters hold their own as a stirring and refreshingly tactile contrast to the digital advertising world. The Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service in partnership with the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum celebrates this time-honored graphic art tradition.

“American Letterpress: The Art of Hatch Show Print” will open at the Experience Music Project|Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame in Seattle Oct. 11. Closing July 16, 2009, it will then tour to an additional 13 museums during the next four years. The exhibition is supported by America’s Jazz Heritage, a partnership of the Wallace Foundation and the Smithsonian Institution.

“American Letterpress” features 126 historical and contemporary posters and 29 hand-carved wooden blocks—some on view for the very first time. Whether in posters promoting a Johnny Cash concert or a carnival performance; advertising the rodeo or the Grand Ole Opry; or capturing the modern-day verve of a concert by Coldplay or The Strokes, posters printed by Hatch Show Print capture the heralded traditions of American letterpress printing and graphic art at their very best.

“Hatch is a survivor. We keep ink on the blocks and dust off their backs,” said Jim Sherraden, the exhibition’s curator and chief designer at Hatch Show Print. “We’re in constant production, and we’ve survived all the changes in printing technology to become the antithesis of contemporary digital design. I’m thrilled that we can share our story and our art through this exhibition.”

For much of the 20th century, Hatch’s vibrant posters served as a leading advertising medium for southern entertainment—from vaudeville and minstrel shows, to magicians and opera singers, to Negro League baseball games and B-movies. Many of Hatch’s most loyal clients were Grand Ole Opry stars. Each Hatch Show Print poster is a unique creation, individually handcrafted and inked onto paper in a painstaking process that dates back to the 15th century. This process, known as letterpress, involves inking hand-carved wood blocks and metal photo plates and type that are then pressed onto paper to form an image.

The shop that produces these colorful posters has long been a downtown Nashville landmark and the guardian of a very special piece of Americana. Now owned and operated by the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum, Hatch Show Print not only carefully re-strikes some of the original, hand-carved wood blocks to reproduce classic images on the massive, old letterpresses, but also designs and prints over 600 new compositions each year, continuing in the firm’s tradition.

The mission of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum is to identify and preserve the evolving history and traditions of country music and to educate its audiences. Functioning as a local history museum and as an international arts organization, the museum serves visiting and non-visiting audiences including fans, students, scholars, members of the music industry and the general public-in the Nashville area, the nation and the world. Visit online at

SITES has been sharing the wealth of Smithsonian collections and research programs with millions of people outside Washington, D.C., for more than 50 years. SITES connects Americans to their shared cultural heritage through a wide range of exhibitions about art, science and history, which are shown wherever people live, work and play. Exhibition descriptions and tour schedules are available a

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Jennifer Schommer

(202) 633-3121