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!

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

On the Radar -- Navy Chic

Jil Sander Fall/Winter 2012
If there's one definite thing we Blackbird girls recognize about our junk lovin', is that when we find ourselves buying and picking up certain things while we are out and about, then we're going to start seeing it EVERYWHERE very soon. Not that we're trend savants or anything, but we're pretty plugged in to the design world, both through television (Project Runway, anyone?) and other media, as well as what we see in the antique and junk retail world on a daily basis. And somehow all that we're seeing and hearing about trickles through our subconscious until it just suddenly becomes clear in our mind.

This week's On the Radar post is about our rediscovery of the color navy.  We had just such a moment of clarity with navy recently. We've been absently talking about navy to each other for months and months, but didn't realize until we went on a junk buying trip this summer, that we were buying many navy things. A navy hat here, three navy dresses there -- navy earrings, a navy purse, navy get the picture. 

Hanova Pasadena Enamel Dove Bowl from MonkiVintage on Etsy
Navy really is an amazing color.  It looks great with everything.  Absolutely everything.  It seems less scary and less harsh than black; it can be both classic and modern, all at the same time; and it can be super dark and inky, or it can be a lighter, true blue navy.  It looks crisp with white, comforting with cream, sharp with metallics, and edgy with black.  Both of us Blackbird girls grew up with the hard and fast rule of not mixing navy and black together-- you have to find navy shoes to wear with that navy dress to church! -- but mixing them seems easier these days.  We like the combination now.  White shoes after labor day...well, that's another story...

Color Block Stripe Pillow by Jillian Rene Decor
But where navy can really start to shine is with other colors.  Couple a bright color with navy and you get something that is less graphic than black-with-a-bright-color, and maybe a bit more unexpected than black-with-a-bright-color.  Try navy with kelly green or yellow.  Go monochromatic with lighter and mid-tone blues.  It looks a little more like you really know what you're talking about, that you have that fashion know-how and you're not afraid to use it!

1980s Wool Devon Hall by Robert Paul Taboh Cropped Jacket in our shop.

You can find more of our navy inspiration here, in a new treasury we made on Etsy, or in our vintage shop!  You can also follow our pins for the blog on Pinterest!

Monday, August 6, 2012

Junk Love Monday: Make Your Collection Work For You

Last week, we established the fact that the Blackbird girls are junk addicts. We buy, and then we buy, and then we buy some more. You would think that we would be absolutely out of room by now, right? It is no secret within our circle that our living space is packed with junk. Most first-time guests expect to see a monstrous pile of antiques and tchotchkes, from floor to ceiling, with a pulse that vibrates beneath their feet. What they find instead is a very extensive, but carefully curated, smorgasbord of things. We decorate with our junk. It is everywhere (and I do mean everywhere--every nook and cranny in this house is considered to be real estate for the current or future display of something). Yes, we share a house that could only be classified as tiny, a 1947 cottage that seems to be shrinking by the day. But, we are experts at maximizing the potential of a space, no matter how small. We do have rules to follow. (Last week, we introduced you to the rule known as #3, or the Rule of Three, about the minimum requirements to make something an official collection.) This week, we give you two more rules.

Rule #10: Use your home as a gallery for the things you love to look at. Our strategy for artwork (or anything we can hang on a nail, really): if it's a vertical flat surface, it's available. It doesn't matter if it's three inches from the ceiling, or hanging all the way to the floor, or on the back (and front!) of a door. We hang things across the tops of doorways, on the wall beside the refrigerator, in the laundry nook, above and below light switches, and someday soon, we will probably be hammering tiny nails in a row down the exposed side of our built-in bookcase. We literally have a section of wall that is covered with artwork from the ceiling down to the baseboard with vintage artwork.

how to display wall art

Rule #10, part B: use your displays to mask the defects in the "gallery." Some people use accessories to enhance the architecture of their home, which is absolutely fabulous if you have noteworthy architecture. Those of us living in homes with...flaws...can use our accessories to cover up the blemishes. If you are in physical pain at the thought of a room with more artwork than drywall, imagine how it would feel knowing that the drywall is cracked and uneven, and the painters were possibly sleepwalking when they applied your favorite, but now-discontinued, color (the one that ALL of your furniture matches, so if you repainted the walls, you'd have to reupholster everything). It is far more satisfying to cover that up (and much cheaper than having someone come in and re-drywall and paint every room in your house, which would really mean having to move to a hotel while this is done, because you have to sleep somewhere). Do you have a pesky support column somewhere, which can't be removed because it's holding up your house? Cover that thing up. Artwork, masks, a collection of tools--it doesn't matter what you hang on it. Just make it look like it was put there specifically to display something you love, and nobody will ever leave your house thinking about that ugly column again.

But what if it can't hang? This brings me to Rule #9 in our personal guidebook to happiness: Make your collection work for you. It is a beautiful concept, really. First, you get dual usage out of some of your things. Second, when you are thinking about purchasing something, the moment when you realize that you can use it to display, store, or enhance something else in your collection will bring you that most precious realization: I HAVE TO BUY THIS! You have no choice now, which eases the pain of opening your wallet and handing over the money. You have to do it, because it was meant to be! It is guilt-free efficiency. Example: She buys a box of vintage billiard balls. What do we do with spherical things, which, because our house is also not level, tend to roll all over the place? Why, I simply MUST buy that red bowl to hold them! And now that I have that red bowl? I can buy that similar aqua bowl to hold my bocce balls. It doesn't get better than bowls of balls, people! When she buys an antique optic glass punchbowl, what do we do? Fill it with her vintage typewriter tins. When I buy vintage chess pieces? Then she simply MUST buy that vase to hold them. Then, we can use that vase of chess pieces as a bookend. A teak salad bowl will hold candy at Halloween, or turned upside down, can act as a riser for a piece of pottery. A midcentury creamer becomes a pencil cup.

However, sometimes we have to find a place to store things that aren't a part of our display. Whether it is something as mundane as scotch tape, or a collectible that is being rotated out for a while, it has to go somewhere, and that is the moment you will discover that the drawer in the kitchen is already full. This is when you can really make your collection work for you--as storage units. While we may wiggle things into overstuffed closets and under furniture, nothing serves us better in the way of storage than two of our collections: suitcases and ice buckets.

Stacks don't have to match!

The suitcase craze comes and goes among vintage-lovers, but our relationship with our luggage is solid. Every suitcase, trunk, and vanity case that we own is performing double duty as a storage site for something. I have a round blue suitcase that holds sweaters in the off season. We have a plaid suitcase that stores back issues of magazines. Vintage tweed suitcases filled with unsightly and rarely-used, but highly sentimental, VHS tapes are stacked on a piece of furniture to serve as risers for one of our displays. Depending on the time of year, other suitcases throughout the house may hold extra blankets, board games, Christmas decorations, our heaviest winter coats, and an impossible-to-display collection of vintage cheese boards that will have their grand debut at a cheese party someday. To keep everything straight? Just tie paper luggage tags to the handles of the suitcases, with the contents written on the tag. Unless you have incredibly nosy guests, people will just think they are name tags. You can buy them, or make your own, or use the tags that came with the suitcase when you bought it. We get great storage, and the suitcases look great with our decor.

The ice bucket collection has become a resting place for smaller items: spare batteries, tape, business cards, and the super important Pizza Delivery Fund. Have you ever put something in a "safe place," and then spent six months looking for it? If you designate the ice bucket collection as a series of safe places, it cuts the search time considerably (and you don't end up emptying, and then re-filling, every drawer and cabinet in your house). Yes, I might forget which ice bucket holds the AA batteries, but trust me, it only takes two seconds to lift the lid, gaze inside, and move on. No digging required. Plus,  ice buckets are cool.

Peter Max Ice Bucket-- circa 1960 with rose-colored sunglasses handle