At this gallery, posters hang as high art

When Bruce Springsteen played Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium last December, the show’s promoter commissioned Hatch Show Print to design a poster. Not as an advertisement — tickets for the concert had sold out within hours — but to commemorate the event. Afterward, Springsteen, discovering that Hatch’s distinctive images had chronicled virtually the entire spectrum of Southern music, from Bessie Smith to Elvis to BR5-49, was so pleased with his rendering that he wanted to meet the man who made it.

The man, Jim Sherraden, 40, takes this sort of praise in stride. In 1984, he came to Hatch — perhaps the oldest letterpress print shop in America, founded in 1879 by brothers C.R. and H.H. Hatch — to chronicle its history and stayed on to become its manager/chief designer. Today, it’s the rare rock band that, when on the road, doesn’t stop at the century-old shop in the heart of Nashville’s historic district, joining the Beastie Boys, Elvis Costello, Beck, and almost every important country musician of the last 50 years in hiring Hatch to do an original design. (We asked the shop to design the cover of this month’s EW Metro Nashville special.)

A good poster ”hits all your senses,” says Sherraden, gesturing around the cluttered shop papered with window cards and billboard-size advertisements that trace the threads of a rich, all-but-gone Southern life — vaudeville shows, circus acts, all-star wrestlers, B movies, the Negro National League, county fairs, burlesque, and the occasional whole-hog sausage. ”It’s pleasing to the eye, and, like a radio song, it reminds you of your past,” he says. ”Sometimes you hear that song when you look at these images.”

During a stop at this fourth incarnation of Hatch (once located in the city’s Printer’s Alley), the band Bone Pony is there to requisition work, clearly getting a kick out of employing history — and at a steal: Sherraden charges approximately $125 for 100 ”boxing style” posters. The gallery asks from $3 to $100 for restrikes of classic posters (such as a 1941 cartoonlike image of country musician Zeke Clements). Sherraden estimates Hatch gets up to 9,000 visitors a year, from the serious collector to the curious passerby.

Now owned by the Country Music Foundation, Hatch uses the same carved wood-block and letterpress process it did 118 years ago, and the staff hand-sets all the type. ”Modern technology has no place here,” Sherraden says. ”We do have a cordless telephone, though.”

What’s hanging around Nashville this season:

THE PHOTOGRAPHS OF DOROTHEA LANGE CHEEKWOOD MUSEUM OF ART, 1200 FORREST PARK Lange’s dust bowl and Depression work from the 1920s and ’30s is on display through June 29. The Cheekwood Museum of Art sits on 55 acres of gardens, lawns, and fountains in Belle Meade, so allow time for roaming.

AFRICAN-AMERICAN ART CARL VAN VECHTEN GALLERY, FISK UNIVERSITY, 1000 17TH AVENUE NORTH More than 40 works by leading African-American artists, including Lois Mailou Jones, Charles White, and Hale Woodruff, are housed in one of the oldest buildings on the Fisk campus, one of the nation’s first predominantly black schools to receive university status. Through June 8.