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Hatch Show Print: A Tonic for the Information Age

By Rachel Churner

In a design-heavy city like San Francisco, where any chance to convey information turns into a chance to play artist, sometimes you just want a little breathing room. Sometimes you just want the facts: who is going to play where and when. Gallery 16 brings a bit of much-needed simplicity to the scene with an exhibition of posters from Nashville based Hatch Show Print, the self-proclaimed "Great American Poster Shop." The posters hand-set, hand-inked, and hand-pressed are steeped in nostalgia and American history, and their rhythmic type advertises everything from country legends like Dolly Parton and Johnny Cash to coolkid rockers like the Beastie Boys to mobile homes to ham.

Hatch Show Print was founded in 1879 by brothers C.R. and H.H. Hatch, whose first print job was an advertisement for Rev. Henry Ward Beecher, brother of Harriot Beecher Stowe. In its hundred and thirty year history, the shop has promoted vaudeville acts, minstrel shows, jazz performers, state fairs, all-star wrestling, rock and roll, and most often country music at the Grand Ole Opry, billeting a whole century of cultural phenomena within the same all-caps block letters.

The materials themselves transpose a history to the new posters, for the presses and wood letters haven't been replaced for decades. As Jim Sherraden, director of Hatch Show Print since 1984, tells it, when Hatch makes a poster for Emmy Lou Harris, they're using the same E, the same Y that they did for Elvis Presley fifty years before. Set into the letterpress and covered with ink across which the paper is rolled, the printed type or wood-cut illustration is literally impressed into the paper. The tactile results thus bear the marks of their production as well as the imperfections caused by smeared ink, worn letters, and uneven ink coverage. One poster at time, Sherraden and other Hatch employees can hand-crank 100 sheets/hour on average, a far cry from the 100-300 pages/minute offset printers can produce.

A highlight of Gallery 16's presentation, which unfortunately does little to contextualize the works through its installation, is the "Silas Green from New Orleans" poster from 1944. A popular traveling minstrel show, Silas Green brought jazz, ragtime, and comedy to the Southern states from 1907 to 1958. Several multi-colored posters for Silas Green have been reprinted by Hatch in the past few years, but the curvy madam with a sandwich board draped over her bare chest stands out. The dark orange and green print is a poster within a poster and it casually lets sex sell the show by letting her wear the ad. But lest the Southern Baptists get all riled up, Hatch reminds us that a Silas Green show is "Always clean, Always good." Just like Hatch design.

Hatch Show Print, Selections from The Great American Poster Shop is on display through March 30. Gallery 16 is located at 1616 16th St.(@ Rhode Island) in San Francisco. Hours are Monday - Friday, 9 am - 5 pm, or by appointment. Admission is free. For more information call 415.626.7495.