Master printmaker uses ‘that which falls to the floor’ to create mesmerizing quilts

Photography by Connie Chornuk

When Jim Sherraden moved to Nashville in 1977, it was because his lyric writing skills had caught the attention of Waylon Jennings.

“When they called, I left the phone hanging in the air like a cartoon character,” he jokes.

But along with his way with words he brought a way with letters and printmaking to Music City. Add in his appreciation for history, and Sherraden was a natural fit to manage Hatch Show Print when the job came open in 1984.

It ended up being a perfect pairing. Over the next 30 years, Sherraden revived the graphic design institution, which flourished under his decades of care. That was no small feat in a time when letterpress was dying and people were paying for radio ads over posters.

“The wood just seemed to be lined with dust, so I wanted to bring them back to life,” he says.

Sherraden was the manager of Hatch until the end of 2016. During that period, not only did he start the line of restrike prints celebrating the rich advertising history at Hatch, but he started creating his own pieces of art based on that original archive.

His monoprints would take this block and that block from Hatch’s archive and turned them into compositions that had never been done before. Think combining an animal from a 1933 barnyard series with the background from a print made for a soda brand out of Jackson.

And after tipping his hat to the history of Hatch for three decades, he took what he learned there to create something entirely new.

“I realized that I could start cutting my own blocks again and creating an individual piece of art based on all of the information that I received while making countless posters for everybody from Bruce Springsteen to B.B. King,” he says. “When I left the post at Hatch as manager and started working upstairs in archives, I continued creating my own pieces of art.”

In 2005 he began cutting his own woodblocks again. He made his first wooden quilt in 2008 when local cabinetmaker and friend Ian Hartert of Hartert-Russell gave him thousands of woodblocks left over from a project.

“I looked at these blocks for a half a year, and then rather sheepishly thought I would cut my own artwork up and mount them on top of the wood blocks and create a multi-dimensional wooden quilt,” he says.

As a result of that process, he had what is known in quilting as “that which falls to the floor.” But what to do with the beautiful scraps?

“I kept looking at all these pieces, and then a friend asked for some of the ‘fish bones’ and I began to wonder what I was missing,” he says. “That is how I started.”

His colorful quit patterns are sometimes traditional, like Attic Window or Baby Block, and some are more free-form “crazy quilt” patterns. While it’s hard not to associate Sherraden with the two decades of mixed monoprint making he did at Hatch, that’s okay. All of that work at the letterpress is what led him to where he is now: Because it’s standard in a print shop to cut up a proof, it was much easier for Sherraden to take one of his own beautiful prints and start cutting.

“Everything that I did at Hatch as a printmaker led me to this,” he says. “When you cut up posters for 30 years, it’s not a stretch to cut your own artwork up — keeping in mind the larger picture.”

Today he works a few days a week archiving the Hatch history and has yet to barely even touch the ’20s, ’30s and ’40s. He spends the rest of his time working on his art and studying the tradition of quilting.

“Quilting is a worldwide, recognized way of keeping warm and a way of making artwork,” he says. “A woman named Margaret Shapiro said that even though they were considered folk art pieces, they will stand up with any Picasso piece with the skill and the precision that was put into them.”

And there is more to come.

“I have what I call the ‘under-the-bed’ collection, and maybe one day we will show those,” he says. “For the time being I appreciate the printmakers before me and all those quilters who gave me the opportunity to slow down and create these pieces of art. And I’ve just gotten started.”

Jim Sherraden is showing his wooden and paper quilts at Hatch Show Print’s The Haley Gallery, 224 Fifth Ave. S., Aug. 4-Sept. 30, 2018.