Yee-Haw Industries—the Knoxville print shop that renewed interest in the art of the letterpress—will be closing its doors by the end of April, according to co-owners Julie Belcher and Kevin Bradley. They will be parting ways to pursue their own, separate businesses.
Bradley, who took a recent sojourn in Los Angeles, will likely set up a new shop there, while Belcher plans to stay in Knoxville. For the next several weeks, the vast collection of antique type and printing equipment that became a Knoxville tourist destination in itself will be divided between the two, with Bradley's portion being packed and moved out.
The division marks the end of what had become a nationally renowned design house with major clients in film, music, and media. Utilizing the wide-ranging styles of Belcher and Bradley's many artist friends, Yee-Haw created its own unique brand, making a major impact in the design world and in art directors' address books. The shop also helped spur the resurgence of letterpress printing across the U.S. as an art medium as well as a more lasting commercial product in the digital age. Yee-Haw's award-winning designs have appeared on everything from a Nitty Gritty Dirt Band album cover to a New York Times Book Review cover, and many of Yee-Haw's interns and employees have gone on to start their own shops or work at others inspired by its example.
Yee-Haw got off the ground some 15 years ago when Belcher and Bradley met at the kitchen of the original Magpies Bakery, where both designers were helping out while looking for new projects. With Bradley's background working at Nashville's venerable Hatch Show Print and Belcher's as a freelancer for clients such as Blue Note Records, the two conceived their own business that would take the "defunct" technique of letterpress printing to new artistic heights. The shop was soon started in Belcher's family barn in Corbin, Ky., as the duo traveled around the country, searching for cast-off type collections and vintage printers. They moved Yee-Haw to its current Gay Street location in 1999, helping inspire downtown's renaissance by creating a vibrant center of artistic energy on the then-nearly empty thoroughfare.
Yee-Haw was hosting art parties before Knoxville's First Friday became a tradition. Their studio was a museum of antique printing machinery. They offered gallery shows and late-night performance-art shows upstairs, and sometimes showed films on the empty buildings across the street. Their early success came up in discussions of nearby Market Square's future, as an example of an intuitive new business model that might be relevant to downtown Knoxville in the 21st century. Yee-Haw's example was a factor in discouraging early ideas to "program" Market Square as a manicured mall-like attraction, with certain "covenants" governing opening hours and business types.
A clearance sale of Yee-Haw's inventory is planned, but details have not yet been nailed down.
Here's our story about Yee-Haw from 1999, published shortly before it opened its doors.
Previously published on the Daily Pulse April 9, 2012.