Four years ago today I was accepted into the University of Iowa Center for the Book’s MFA in Book Arts program. At the time I was living in Nashville, Tennessee and well into my fifth year working as a letterpress printer, designer, and occasional cat bather at the historic American letterpress Mecca, Hatch Show Print.
I began my career at this 130+ year old Nashville institution in 2006 after graduating from Maryville College with a BA in Fine Arts. I had a fair amount of experience in relief printing but none with letterpress. Hatch Show Print has a reputation for their intense and much sought after internship program. Eager to learn, I was invited by then Production Manager and all around illustration extraordinaire, Agnes Barton-Sabo to join the ranks.
At Hatch Show Print there is no time to dip your toes in the inky pool of letterpress job printing. The internship program is designed so that the pool is instantly knee deep. Within the first few weeks interns are designing with type in hand, talking directly with clients, and rubbing elbows with some of the most talented letterpress printers and artists that I have ever known. My letterpress instructor, Brad Vetter, had already been working at Hatch for several years and was an expert designer and artist in his own right. He was responsible for training us interns so that we could gain hands-on practical experience in a fast-paced, high volume letterpress job-printing environment.
At the time I started my internship, it was an unusual time of transition at Hatch. Several veterans of the Hatch empire had moved on to pursue other endeavors, and positions slowly became available. It was November when I found myself atop the 20ft rolling ladder putting away some of the larger type in the archive when I looked down to find the base of the ladder suddenly surrounded by the entire Hatch entourage. “We’ve given it some thought and want to know if you would be interested in working here.”
What do you say? “Thanks for the offer, but I’ll need to think about it.” NO. When offered your dream job, (especially when you’re precariously high off the ground) you say, “Seriously? Yes, absolutely!” Talk about climbing the ladder of success!
That day started what would become over the next five years to be my most formative job experience to date. Had I not worked at Hatch, I doubt that I would have been introduced to bookbinding at all. I wouldn’t have discovered a desire to own my own business, and I certainly wouldn’t have applied to the UICB’s MFA program. It is now nine years after I started working at Hatch Show Print, and four years to the day since I received my acceptance letter for grad school. I am fortunate to count both of these institutions on my CV, and the next time I see a ladder, rest assured I’ll be on it, not under it. I’m no fool.