This piece is a part of our 2015 Nashville Trail Map. Check out all the points on the trail and download our hand-illustrated map here.
We stopped by world-famous letterpress outfit, Hatch Show Print, to talk to Liz Earle and Carl Carbonell about what they do there. What is letterpress? Why do tourists flock to Hatch in downtown Nashville every year? Liz works in the gift shop at Hatch, and Carl is a printer. Carl also runs his own print operation, Meat & 3. Hopefully Liz and Carl can explain what all the fuss is about.
Lee from OF: Why is Hatch currently in the Omni Hotel? Can you explain what happened?
Liz: Before moving here, Hatch was located on Broadway for twenty years, and that was supposed to be a temporary fixture. They were only supposed to be there a couple years, and it ended up being twenty. It moved here when the business was donated to the Country Music Foundation. Now it’s a part of the Country Music Hall of Fame museum.
Lee from OF: So the people that started Hatch donated it?
Liz: They sold it, and then that person donated it.
Lee from OF: To the Country Music Association? That’s what runs the Country Music Hall of Fame?
Liz: The Country Music Foundation. The Country Music Association is a separate thing. There’s the Country Music Foundation, which owns the Hall of Fame, Hatch, and Studio B, and the Country Music Association, which does the awards and music festival.
Lee from OF: So what is Hatch now?
Liz: It’s a living-working museum and business. Now we’ve expanded to offer educational programs with this new building.
Lee from OF: Paint a picture of what it’s like to visit Hatch now versus what it used to be.
Liz: This is a totally brand-new facility. The space we’re in was built for Hatch. I don’t know how big it is, but the layout is exactly how its first layout was, whenever it first started.
Lee from OF: Where was that?
Liz: It’s been in seven different locations. It was on Broadway for twenty years, and before that it was behind the Ryman. Before that no one really knows where it was located. It was behind the Ryman for like forty years.
Lee from OF: I should back up, and clarify. What does Hatch do? Why do people care about it?
Liz: Hatch makes letterpress posters.
Lee from OF: Can you explain what that is?
Liz: Letterpress is a process. You should talk to Carl. [Editors note: we talk to Carl below.] But, letterpress is a printing process that’s been around since Gutenberg.
Lee from OF: Anyway, so Hatch is famous for starting off doing a lot of country music posters?
Liz: They started off doing minstrel show posters for carnivals and traveling preachers. One of the first things they did was for Harriet Beecher Stowe’s brother. Harriet wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin and her brother was an evangelical preacher who travelled around. He was one of their first clients. They made pamphlets and fliers for him. And then they started doing carnival posters and posters for magicians. They made political posters for people running for office, like mayors and shit. Eventually Roy Acuff became a huge client. He hired them for his campaign for mayor of Nashville. He didn’t win. They bought their trademark neon sign with the money they made from printing the posters for his campaign. There’s a replica of it out front on 5th Ave.
Lee from OF: And now they’re known for doing a lot of iconic music posters, for the classic country stars and Elvis?
Liz: When Hatch was behind the Ryman they became synonymous with making show posters for the Ryman.
Lee from OF: And now they’re known for making a definitive American letter press style right?
Liz: A lot of people try to copy Hatch’s work, including the Grand Ole Opry. A lot of people think we make those posters and we don’t.
Lee from OF: But y’all made some back in the day?
Liz: Yeah, and whenever the Opry is at the Ryman we’ll still make them. Gaylord Entertainment owns the Opry and they don’t typically hire us to make the Opry posters now.
Lee from OF: Can you explain how you use this big library of letters and icons?
Liz: That’s a question for Carl. You should go find Carl.
Lee from OF: Ok. Well what’s the most popular item in the gift shop?
Liz: Leave me alone…
[Editors Note: We went and found Carl.]
Lee from OF: Ok, so you have your own printing shop?
Carl: Yeah I have my own letterpress company called The Meat & 3 Printing Company, and I’m about to move in with Sawtooth Print Shop, so we’re about to be studio mates. I’m moving a press in there probably early December or late November. Then I’ll be starting to print custom wedding invitations and event posters, and whatever else.
Lee from OF: So how’d you get into doing all that?
Carl: I met a guy in North Alabama. I went to school in Northeast Mississippi and I met a guy in Northwest Alabama that was doing letterpress named Amos Kennedy. He just totally blew my mind. I was a graphic design student, so I knew a little bit about letterpress printing, but he’s the one that kind of taught me the particulars of the process. That was when my trajectory kinda changed, and I stopped using a computer so much and started trying to figure out print-making more.
Lee from OF: So, where’d you go to school?
Carl: Mississippi State
Lee from OF: Ok. I’m from Tupelo.
Carl: Oh nice. Right on. That’s awesome.
Lee from OF: Are you from Mississippi? How’d you wind up there?
Carl: I went to High School right outside of Memphis.
Lee from OF: Don’t they have a good art department at Mississippi State?
Carl: Yeah they do.
Lee from OF: Ok, so can you explain how letterpress works to someone that doesn’t know what that is?
Carl: Well it’s a form of relief printing, which means you’re printing a shape, a physical shape. So it’s a lot of letters carved out of wood, sometimes out of lead. Images carved out of wood, photo plates made out of copper, magnesium. Basically ink gets spread over the surface of those objects and then paper gets pressed in between. The way that Jim says it is, “letters pressed into paper, with ink in between.”
[Editor’s Note: Jim is Jim Sherradan, the master printer at Hatch.]
Lee from OF: So does Hatch in particular have a bunch of carvings that they’ve made and kept in this library? Do you have a bunch of letters and carvings that you’ve made at Meat & 3?
Carl: The way that Hatch works is it’s full of empty type and imagery. We also carve new imagery from time-to-time. The way that I’m working is sort of the other ratio. I have a little bit of type, but for the most part I’m carving new imagery every time. I do custom jobs or have a plate made from a digital file.
Lee from OF: Are there different types of presses, or are they all pretty much the same?
Carl:Yeah, there’s basically two main types of technology. There’s the platinum press and the cylinder press. The cylinder press is more of the romantic technology where it’s the cylinder that you hand crank and it rolls and presses the paper in. On the platinum press, some people call them a clam-shell press, it’s like two hands that clap and press paper in between them. Presses come in different sizes. Huge range of sizes. And then some of them are a lot more automated than others. Not all of them are hand fed for that matter. Most of the ones that we’re working with are hand fed. The one that I’m moving into Sawtooth is hand fed.
Lee from OF: Is that a similar process to what Gutenberg used?
Carl: It’s the same technology, but the presses themselves are a lot more efficient now. The ones that we’re using are inking by themselves, and Gutenberg was having to ink it by hand each time. The process of applying pressure on the Gutenberg press requires a substantial longer time than these. It was still quicker to make books on his press than writing them out, but his press was pretty primitive.
Contributions from Liz Earle and Carl Carbonell - Liz, a recent Nashvillian, spends most of her time getting out of trouble. She is a writer and frequent contributer to Original Fuzz. Carl is a printer who makes cool stuff at his company Meat & 3.