Friday, August 10, 2012

The Skinny -- The Art of Tammis Keefe

Tammis Keefe.  Photo from
Another two things you should know about the Blackbird girls is that we collect lots of mid-century linens (the cuter the better), and that we also collect children's illustrated books.  A designer and artist that really captures the fun of both of these things is Tammis Keefe.  Margaret Thomas Keefe was born in December 1913 in California. Although she started out studying math in college, she soon realized her passion for art and transferred to the Chouinard Institute of Art.  After graduation, Keefe worked at  the Disney studios, and then as art director of the magazine Arts and Architecture from 1940 to 1942.  After that, she was mentored by textile artist Dorothy Liebes, where she began to focus on being a print maker and colorist.

From by xtinalamb
Keefe's fun prints reflected America's optimistic outlook following World War II.  Bright and cheerful, her prints were influenced by her travels, animals and nature, and celebrations. While working with Liebes, Keefe designed textiles for Goodall Industries, as well as Golding Decorative Fabrics, Cyrus Clarke and Jud Williams Inc. She also designed wallpaper prints for James Kemble Mills and Katzenbach & Warren.*

Keefe's fabric and wallpaper prints for the home soon led to other product design.  She began designing hankies, dish towels, tablecloths, and even clothing.  Her designs were collectible, even in her time, and she really revolutionized the idea of the designer as a brand for their products.  Her designs for retailers like Lord & Taylor were manufactured by Kimball, and were signed "Tammis Keefe."  She even marketed to other retailers as "Peg Thomas" as a way to be represented in multiple retail outlets at the same time.  

From KLB Vintage Wares on Etsy

In a 1951 Christian Science Monitor article, Keefe was quoted as saying “Anything is possible in textile design, if it is done correctly. A designer merely starts with something, anything, and then develops it. To an imaginative person, practically anything suggests a starting point. From then on, it is merely stating what you have to say in design.”*

Tammis Keefe died in 1960 at age 46 from cancer, but she left a legacy in her prints.  In recent years, Michael Miller fabrics reissued some of her prints in quilting and craft cotton.  Her patterns are still as endearing and enchanting today as they were 50 years ago.  We currently have an Arabian patterned hankie for sale in our shop!

Blackbird Antiques NC
*Background and quotes from and  Thanks to them for the great info!

1 comment:

  1. Wow!! This was so interesting to read, thanks so much for sharing this great information. I just love vintage linens.