Floppy puppets and fine prints
If you're worried that the arts are succumbing to technology in this increasingly virtual age, our July gift books - celebrations of timeless craft traditions that have endured over the decades - will ease your mind.
The genius of the Muppetmaster is honored in Jim Henson's Designs and Doodles: A Muppet Sketchbook written by Alison Inches, a former senior editor and writer with The Jim Henson Company. Featuring early sketches that have never been published before, Designs and Doodles mixes Henson's biography with that of the Muppets, hitting all the highlights of both, from early television appearances to the hiring of Frank Oz and the creation of stock characters, including the incubation of Big Bird and the birth of Gonzo. An encyclopedia of Muppet lore, the book is full of delightful disclosures. Oscar the Grouch, for instance, wasn't always green; for his Sesame Street debut he sported orange shag fur. The origin of the word "Muppet" (not to be revealed here) is also included in the book.
The info is fascinating, but the volume's emphasis is on visuals, and there are wonderful surprises on every page. Drawings hint at how some of these incredibly scaled creations (a monster named Thog, designed for Nancy Sinatra's Las Vegas nightclub act in 1971, stood all of nine feet tall) were operated. Examples of Henson's early work as a visual artist - jazzy, '60s-era silkscreens and collages - are vibrantly reproduced. Pencil sketches on lined paper show creatures winged and fanged and many-legged, hybrids of whimsical proportions with whiskers, beaks, horns, over-sized eyes and mile-wide mouths. Whether they're half-hatched concepts or fully formulated ideas, these imaginative musings - the work of a man who made an impossible world seem completely plausible - show history in the making.
A monument to music in a city full of songwriters, Hatch Show Print has been cranking out one-of-a-kind posters and flyers in Nashville for more than a century using printing techniques that date back to the age of Gutenberg. A winning tribute to this legendary establishment, Hatch Show Print: The History of a Great American Poster Shop, written by store manager Jim Sherraden, Hatch employee Elek Horvath and country music expert Paul Kingsbury, tells the story of what may be the nation's oldest active letterpress business, beginning with its founding in 1879 by Charles and Herbert Hatch. This engaging, handsomely illustrated account provides inside looks at the shop's owners and employees, follows Hatch's financial ups and downs, and documents changes in the entertainment industry - both inside and outside Music City.
Almost from the beginning, Hatch equaled entertainment, creating posters and flyers for minstrel shows, musical revues, circuses and carnivals. Posted throughout the South, the shop's prints became so ubiquitous in the early decades of the century that they began appearing in the WPA photographs of Walker Evans. From Cab Calloway to Frank Zappa, freak shows to ladies professional wrestling, a list of the shop's diverse clientele presents a cross-section of the show business industry in America.
The book is full of Hatch Show treasures, colorful posters for early patrons like the Rabbitfoot Minstrels and the Vanderbilt Commodores. Grand Ole Opry commissions feature the classic faces of Dolly Parton, Roy Acuff and Flatt and Scruggs. Publicity with a twist, the prints - subtle or bold but always original - prove that promotion isn't just business; it's also an art.
A history of Hatch would be incomplete without appearances by music biz giants. Included in the book are priceless anecdotes about Bill Monroe, Colonel Tom Parker and Hank Williams Sr., who in 1952 got red ink on the back of his famous white suit when he accidentally sat on a Hatch print.