This piece is part of our NASHtoday Q+A series. Do you know someone we should interview? Nominate them here.
Celene Aubry is the director of Hatch Show Print — a letterpress print shop founded in 1879 by brothers Charles and Herbert Hatch. Perhaps best known today for its iconic resume of concert posters, the shop has a rich history and continues to thrive out of its space inside the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
We asked Celene six questions about Hatch Show Print’s history, the process of designing and printing by hand, and carrying on the shop’s tradition of preservation through production.
Q: Can you tell us about your background and how you got into letterpress printing?
I first started learning how to letterpress print in 2007 — not long before I started at Hatch Show Print. There used to be vocational training for letterpress printing, and historically, this is a generational business. I’m neither of those, as I studied physics and architecture when I was in college as an undergrad. I was learning letterpress printing at night and volunteering at other printing museums closer to where I lived in Chicago. As soon as I knew that there was a place where I could use some of my favorite tools for letterpress printing — wood type, hand-carved imagery, and lots of color — that planted a seed of “okay, well, maybe I should get to [Hatch Show Print].” My predecessor and mentor Jim Sheridan was interested in pursuing his own art, so that created an opportunity for me to be here in Nashville. I don’t regret it in any way, shape, or form, even when I’m up to my elbows in grease.
Q: It’s safe to say Nashvillians and Hatch Show Print are on a first name basis, but for those unfamiliar, what’s a quick history of the 140+ year old shop?
Hatch Show Print opened in 1879 — 100 years after the city was officially established — and started in the basement or backroom of one of the two daily newspapers, The Nashville Banner. At the time, Nashville was probably the fourth or fifth largest printing city in the country... The city’s location in the heart of the country made it convenient for businesses of all sorts, including live entertainment, touring the country to make Nashville a pitstop for them to pick up supplies like advertising posters and other materials. As Hatch grew as an advertising business, they were able to grow into larger operations and building locations. That’s what put them on the map.
Q: Can you walk us through the printing process? What goes into taking a product from concept all the way to production?
Today, we carve blocks and design everything we print, just like they did. We carry on the tradition of carving and using lots of bold, bright colors. Back then, this work was meant to catch your attention and hold it long enough to read about the next show, the latest and greatest vacuum cleaner, or whatever local businesses here in Nashville might have advertised. Today, the posters don’t tell you or sell you because we all have that information and more on our phones. The posters are meant to commemorate or celebrate, and that’s why they are often sold as merch at shows.
Q: In what ways does Hatch Show Print honor the early printing days?
Our mantra here is preservation through production. For us, that has multiple meanings. One is because all of our type is wood, so if you don’t use it, it just starts to dry out and crack and it becomes unusable. So quite literally using our tools and our equipment preserves it. The next poster coming off the press means that A. we’re working — which means all of this has been preserved — and B. people are going to get their poster and celebrate the magic of letterpress printing. If it’s their first poster, they always get way more excited because of the color and the texture, and if you pick them up fresh, you can still smell the ink.
Q: Do you have a dream artist(s) you’d love to see on a print one day?
My co-worker Jennifer is a massive Madonna fan. I also love Madonna because she’s part of my growing up and youth and music, so I would love to do her posters. I would also love to do posters for Tom Waits... On the flipside, I just love that we’re in a city that is still a creative hotbed. We’re meeting new artists when they come to the shop, or through the work that we get from folks like the Ryman Auditorium or the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum when they book the CMA Theater. That’s wonderful because we’re all getting exposed to the creative output of other fellow artists in Nashville.
Q: Education is also a big part of your mission. Can you talk about the learning opportunities and what visitors can expect on a tour?
We offer tours every day of the week. We talk about the history of the shop, how the posters were made and why they were made, show lots of artifacts, and talk about the changes in the process of printing and how those are reflected in the changes in American culture. We also talk about the city of Nashville, the ebb and flow of live entertainment, the Grand Ole Opry, and the Ryman Auditorium. It’s a visually rich walk through of the history of Hatch Show Print. If they wish, guests can print the final color of a commemorative print that they get to take home with them.