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March 21st, 2012
Posted By: Angela Wenner
In February, I had the privilege of viewing an exhibit of posters at the Library of Virginia in Richmond. My first steps into the lobby of this amazing building set the tone for a fascinating journey into the histories of advertising, music, graphic design and printmaking. What I didn’t expect was to have a revelation about technology, or, should I say, the lack thereof. Nor did realize how little I knew about something so familiar and recognizable as the classic “concert poster.”
The Art of the Hatch Show Print is an exhibit of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service. (The exhibit is currently on display until 8/15/12 at the California University of Pennsylvania, in California, PA).
Since 1879, Hatch Show Print has been in operation in Nashville, TN, producing hand-made posters using the letterpress printing method. Letterpress involves the arrangement of hand carved wooden letters and symbols onto a printing block, which is then inked and pressed onto poster paper using various colors of printing inks. This method produces a result that is simple yet bold, perfect in its imperfections, vintage and modern at the same time.
The exhibit featured some of the most iconic images in popular music, creating moments where I heard the music in my head, or recalled news clips from my past when the event first took place and became historic. These posters are the epitome of timelessness.
Today, many graphic designers are referencing this “vintage” style in an attempt to bring coolness or “authenticity” to their work. Fonts are being designed with the rough-edged boldness characteristic of the Hatch Show Print signature style. Sterile, slick, clean designs are being replaced with imperfect, organic, fractured shapes and imagery that have been inspired by 50- or 100-year-old posters never intended to last more than a few weeks.
The Hatch Show Print workshop is still in operation today – in fact flourishing, while taking orders from around the world on a rotary phone. Its walls are filled with racks of wooden letters, symbols and logos cut by hand by artists with callouses and dirty fingernails. There are no computers marring this living museum of printmaking. In our world of website optimization, social media, iDevices and instant gratification, the craft of the letterpress poster is inspirational in its simplicity.
I’m regularly asked to speak to groups about the latest and greatest shiny objects in our marketing arsenal, the Pinterests and Facebooks and LinkedIns and such. How they can be leveraged to promote brands and engage customers. These are powerful tools, yes, but do they have value without a thoughtfully crafted, simple message, that is creative, memorable and timeless?
“Advertising without posters is like fishing without worms.”
– The Hatch Brothers
See the process: A video of the Hatch Show Print workshop.
Images courtesy of Hatch Show Print, a division of the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum.