The Print Shop
Posted on December 17, 2015
Recently while visiting Nashville on a family trip, we were making all of the typical rounds – the historic Ryman Auditorium, the Grand Ole Opry and the Country Music Hall of Fame. It was there that I had the chance visit one of the most interesting places in town and meet a true craftsman and artisan – at the Hatch Show Print shop. This is a legendary print shop dating from 1875 grew to fame in the 1920’s producing iconic show bills for the country music artist visiting the Ryman, as well as capturing the spirit of other artist and musical genres over the years. As a traditional letterpress shop it is known for its collection of historic carved wood blocks and creative use of letter setting. The walls of the shop are covered in rows of the historic wood block carvings, and each artisan today still carves their own designs for custom work being produced by the shop.
The real fun of this visit was learning the press process, where we had the opportunity to create our own sign bill, select the colors and press it to paper – all being taught by one of the current artisans. My daughter and nephew created a memory I doubt they will forget and have the artwork to show for it.
For myself, the real treat was meeting master printer Jim Sherraden, and getting to talk with him about the history of the shop, his process and artistry. He has done just about everything in the shop, after discovering it existence in 1984, from printing and designing of show posters to the full management of the shop. Now his role as Master Printer allows him to oversee a staff of printers and to focus on the wood block one sheets and monoprints.
As a true artist himself, his personal work varies for his own wood block prints and the collage work to a stunning recent collaboration with artist Jon Langford, creator of the artwork for Dylan, Cash and the Nashville Cats at the CMHoF. They teamed up to create a limited edition monoprint based on the lyrics to “Girl from the North Country” that was written by Bob Dylan and recorded as a duet with Johnny Cash in 1969.
Talking with Jim reminded me of what I love about the artwork of traditional wood block prints and of other artist works I have been drawn to as well. A favorite of those is Charles Bartlett, and English artist who was introduced to Japanese wood block prints by fellow artist Frank Brangwyn in Venice in the 1860’s. The opening of Japanese ports to the west in 1853 allowed for increased trade and foreign imports, which were folding the European markets. This coincided with the high water mark of the ukiyo-e school of Japanese print making. An iconic example of this art form being discovered was the work of Hokusai and his painting series – “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji”, first published in the mid 1830’s. It included his most famous work – The Great Wave off Kanagawa.
This and other works of its type had great influence on the Impressionist painters of Europe who were developing their own movement. You can find an imprint of Hokusai’s great work in many great collections including the studio of Monet in Giverny.
Bartlett would go on to travel to India, Ceylon, Indonesia, China and Japan – where he would meet would block publisher Wantanabe Shozaburo. In 1916, twenty-one of his wood block prints would be included in a publication artists’ works.
On is return trip to England from Japan, Bartlett would stop in Hawaii, and this would become his new home. He would go on to found the Honolulu Printmakers and his work would go on to capture the Aloha spirit throughout the rest of his life.
Another artist back on the mainland would be making his own impression in wood block printing. Gustave Baumann, German Immigrant, would begin his career as an engraver while studying art in Chicago. He returned to Germany in 1904 to study wood carving in Munich at the Kunstgewerbeshule, and returned home in 1908 to begin his work as a graphic artist. His early training would continue as a member of the Brown County Art Colony in Indiana, and his European inspired techniques of printing reliefs using oil-based paints on a large press stood out in contrast to other artist of the time that were using the Japanese influenced technique of hand rubbed wood blocks.
This unique style was recognized and the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exposition where he won the gold medal for color woodcut. Baumann’s work would truly blossom upon his move to New Mexico in 1918, where he found a home in Santa Fe. His landscapes would capture the essence of the Southwest.
This art form is alive and well as can be seen in another more contemporary artist, Paul Binnie. This Scottish wood block artist, whose work reflects the Japanese tradition, but reflect a wide variety of typology that are timeless in their technique, yet contemporary in their compositions. It is his landscapes that have caught my eye and keep me intrigued by this interesting process of creating art.
The works of all of these artiest reflect their passion and dedication to the craft, and I believe all might share in the same belief that Baumann reflected in his signature mark –
“What you put your hand to, you put your heart behind”