Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Letterpress Love

Everything old is new again.

The oldest poster in the Art of Hatch Show Print exhibit at the Library of Virginia is for a lecture by Henry Ward Beecher, the abolitionist.

On the poster it says "Subject: Reign of the Common People."

It might just as well say "Subject: We Are the 99%." Except that they weren't using that phrase in the 19th century.

The entire show is full of fascinating posters and woodblocks created by Nashville's Show Print company and still used today.

Of course I was a sucker for the music show posters. I've never fully gotten over the shift from posters on telephone poles to Facebook invitations as the vehicle for hearing about upcoming music.

And today I saw the Lollapalooza '97 poster, the last year before it ended (although eventually resurrected).

Mid-nineties indie pop was pretty much summed up by a '95 poster for a Soul Asylum/Matthew Sweet show.

A '97 poster features a bill of the Tragically Hip, Wilco and Los Lobos. There's another for Beck's Odelay tour.

I never would have guessed that Sigur Ros played Nashville in 2006, but I saw the proof.

To be fair, tut there were also posters for Loretta Lynn (pre-Jack White) and Johnny Cash.

Even the newer posters use old lettering and original woodblocks, giving them a vintage look despite 21st century dates.

An early poster for Elvis Presley in Person with the Jordanaires at the Mississippi Alabama Fair teased with, "Hear 'Don't Be Cruel,' 'Hound Dog' and other great recording hits."

Recording hits?

But it wasn't all music. Ad posters for Hotpoint ranges, Frigidaires and Purity Dairy called to consumers.

There were posters for rodeos, Clarksville Speedway and Graves Whole Hog sausage (hot and mild). The phone number was 42-2592.

Six digit phone numbers? When was that?

The posters were a window into the mid-twentieth century South, a place impossible to fully know unless you were there.

You know, back in the day when you'd see a poster for the "Complete James Brown Revue plus the Fabulous JB's and featuring Richard Pryor, Jr. and Soul Courses. Two Shows 8 and 11."

And you'd plunk down your $8.50 if you were smart enough to buy a ticket in advance ($9.50 at the door) and spend three hours watching J.B. tearing up a stage.

I can only imagine. And the Hatch posters make it a pleasure to do that.

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