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World made by hand

Letterpress Bike

A letterpress bike print by artist Bittersugar on Etsy.com.

My friend Cate Fitt, an artist and fellow blogger, shared a video that really blew my mind. It inspired this piece. Thanks Cate!

Ink it, don’t think it

I love of old school printing presses. I love the quality and the raw nature of the medium. I also love that it’s done by hand.

As a writer and graphic designer, I’ve long harbored the fantasy that when the world hits the skids after peak oil really delivers its wallop, that I would shift to printing on a local scale. Maybe I’d run a local newspaper. Or maybe, like Hatch Show Print, I’d do everything from cards and posters to leaflets and issue pamphlets to art for display to whatever printed pieces my customers needed.

Of course, this depends on my getting all the equipment in advance, and learning to use it, so that when the economy does crash, and resources are scarce, I’m in place to do my local printing superhero thing right away.

Yet, here I am, typing away online. I’ve got an iPad but no printing press. That’s why it’s still a fantasy for me. Hey, a girl can dream.

But in Nashville, Tennessee, where Hatch Show Print lives, the hand-made print world is completely real. In continuous operation since 1879, Hatch Show Print still makes all their work by hand, from cutting plates to setting type to applying ink to cranking the rollers that print the job right there right then.

I’m in love.

Jobs of the future

Any small business in the US in continuous operation for almost 150 years is impressive enough. But what may be equally compelling is the very realistic expectation that Hatch Show Press could be in operation just as long going forward into the future.

The Hatch model is truly one of sustainable business practices. It relies on the knowledge bank of its past artisans to hand down to future workers. And it depends on its workers in a way that will never be undercut by the lure of cheap labor in far flung locales. By doing everything by hand, locally, and on a human scale (along with that nearly 150 year old reputation) Hatch can be assured (barring some unforeseen occurrence) that its services will be needed even as the world economy shrinks back and high-tech work dies for lack of the energy to produce it.

Hatch also practices archival preservation, giving the company a huge library of letter blocks and plates to work with in the future. They keep those plates and blocks “alive” by either continuously using them or else by pulling old plates out for a fresh print run from time to time. This adds historic richness to their work, connects them to the past, and shows a remarkable resilience in the reuse of existing materials.

I can’t say enough about what a great model Hatch is for print business opportunities all over the country. I want a Hatch of my own!

The merits of trade

So much of today’s sustainability conversation orbits around local food and farming, and of course that’s fantastic. Who doesn’t love to (or need to) eat? And farmers rock!

But I’m beginning to fear that all the focus on food is drowning out the conversation on other industries that are needed to maintain a vibrant community, provide jobs, and keep local economies ticking.

Clearly communications are key in that regard. And if we go to a widely expected lower-energy paradigm in the not so far off future, we’ll need things like good old fashioned print shops for everything from gazettes to pamphlets to posters.

We’ll also need tailors, cobblers, light manufacturing of all sorts, alternative transportation modes, local arts organizations, artisans and crafters, engineers and builders to retrofit or redesign the built environment to meet our needs. And different people like different jobs. That’s why we need to keep the conversation broad.

The opportunity for creativity is endless, and a World Made by Hand (I’m referencing a fun novel by James Howard Kunstler about a future America that’s much lower tech than today) should inspire us to reconnect with a world beyond our computer screens.

Get inspired by Hatch Show Print with this awesome video. Then share your thoughts on the kinds of future jobs that would be sustainable and engaging in your neck of the woods in a potential economy that’s more made by hand and where those hands belong to you and your neighbors.

Good honest labor is cool!

–Lindsay Curren, Transition Voice*

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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