A man who made his mark—literally—on the world of letterpress printing is retiring. Jim Sherraden, 61, is stepping down from his role as master printer and collection preservation specialist at the venerable Hatch Show Print in Nashville, Tennessee, after 34 years of printmaking.
Sherraden’s transformation of Hatch’s historic prints into contemporary pieces of art helped bolster the letterpress shop’s relevance in the digital age and introduce Hatch to a new generation. To celebrate his career, Hatch Show Print’s Haley Gallery is presenting Jim Sherraden: Then and Now, an exhibition through September 30 that showcases thirty of his prints spanning his years at the shop.
For those unfamiliar with the art of letterpress printing, it consists of applying ink to a raised surface, like a wooden block, and transferring the ink to paper. The stamp leaves a unique and tactile impression on the paper, and it’s all done by hand. One complex print can take up to forty hours to complete, but Sherraden says that’s part of the fun. “We’re coming back to the basics, but we’re taking the basics to a whole new level.”
Hatch Show Print is one of the oldest letterpress shops in the country and a Nashville landmark. Since its start 140 years ago, Hatch has inked posters consisting of its iconic, striking colors and block letters for events ranging from traveling carnivals to concerts by the likes of Hank Williams and Johnny Cash.
Sherraden got his start at Hatch in 1984 after a Vanderbilt professor who had noticed Sherraden’s prints at a local restaurant suggested he pay the print shop a visit. He landed a job, and within five months was working as Hatch’s manager and curator.
As he was familiarizing himself with Hatch’s collection, Sherraden found old, wooden blocks used to make some of the print shop’s most memorable posters and began reusing them to bring back some fan favorites. It was an instant success.
“People started knocking on the door because they heard what I was trying to do with the shop,” Sherraden says. “I was simply trying to celebrate the history by keeping it current, by keeping ink on the block.”
In 1992, Sherraden started making more contemporary prints by combining different hand-cut blocks to make monoprints—one-of-a-kind images. One of his favorites is a piece he created using a 1965 Elvis Presley print from the shop’s collection. “I put Elvis on a cross with the words ‘Ascending or Descending’ embossed on the wood,” Sherraden says. “It tells the story of his rise to fame, being treated as a holy icon as well as a commentary on his drug addiction that inevitably killed him.”
Not long after, Hatch was getting requests for typographic posters from artists ranging from Willie Nelson to Mumford and Sons. In 2005, Sherraden began carving his own wood blocks, and by 2012, he was using his original block designs to create quilted patterns, which he calls paper quilts.
While Sherraden is leaving Hatch behind, he says the shop is in capable hands with his successor, Celene Aubry, who has been working there since 2012.
Sherraden says he’ll continue creating and selling his artwork “until my fingers don’t work.” After that? “I’ll just use my toes.” All the while, he hopes his art will always pay tribute to his years at Hatch.
“I needed that place as much as that place needed me,” Sherraden says. “Nobody can really own Hatch, but they can continue to breathe life into it, and I’m grateful for those decades when I was the lifeguard.”