Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Tribute to Tammis Keefe

After months and months of research, Ebay searches and purchases, we yearn to learn more of this interesting artist's too short life.  It's with great pleasure we bring to you the wonderful designs of Tammis Keefe. 

Born Margaret Thomas Keefe on December 27, 1913 in Los Angeles, her father, Thomas Keefe, had passed away the week before she was born.  Her family called her Peg, a common nickname for Margaret. Tammis (gaelic for Thomas) grew up in Los Angeles where she lived with her mother, aunts and grandparents.

Handkerchiefs, linen kitchen towels and scarves are what Tammis Keefe is known for today because of their availability.  However, she designed for home furnishing fabrics (Goodall Industries and Golding Decorative Fabrics), wallpaper, all manner of kitchen linens in addition to towels including tablecloths, placemats with matching napkin sets and cocktail napkins (Fallani & Cohn, Falfax All Linen and Goodall).  She also designed sportswear shirts for men and women (Marlboro Shirt Company), Christmas cards (Irene Dash Greeting Card Co.), playing cards (Random Thoughts  Publications Co.), glassware, dishware and product advertising and packaging.

The blonde and blue-eyed Keefe (this gleaned from a couple of articles describing her, but hard to tell from black & white photographs) initially studied higher mathematics at Los Angeles Community College, but decided to change her career focus after visiting Chicago’s Art Institute while on a trip to see the 1933-34 World’s Fair.  She attended the Chouinard Art School in Los Angeles (now the California Institute of the Arts) to study painting. 

     DN4938 Tammis Angels (Twinkle)
 DS4725 Unruly Reindeer (Green)

During WWII, Keefe worked creating advertising design and packaging and as Art Director of Arts & Architecture magazine.  Dorothy Wright Liebes offered her a position as a colorist and print designer in her San Francisco, and later in 1948, New York studios. Liebes is well known in the textile world for her unique weaving and color sense.  Through Liebes, Keefe supplied printed textile designs to Goodall Industries, a major furnishings firm.  Keefe attracted attention from the beginning with her graphic style and sense of color, and her name was promoted. 

DS4793 Later Alligator (Multi)

Having lived and worked in California, 
she brought a carefree attitude to design 
and her travels around the world gave her inspiration. 

DN4932 Out To Lunch (Natural)

Keefe’s first design “Persian Horseman” for Goodall was featured in advertisements and trade articles representing a trend in modern textiles.  She designed home decorative lines for Golding Decorative Fabrics, Cyrus Clarke and Jud Williams Inc., and wallpaper for James Kemble Mills and Katzenbach & Warren.  One of her designs originally created for Golding Decorative Fabrics,  “Lemons” (chartreuse and orange color palette), was shown at the MoMA Good Design Exhibition of 1950 which also traveled to Europe.

Keefe began to design handkerchiefs in the late 40’s after giving a friend a silk scarf she had designed as a birthday gift.  It had “Happy Birthday” in large circus letters and candelabras in purple, turquoise, sapphire and chartreuse.  The friend showed it to Lord & Taylor’s handkerchief buyer, who then showed it to J.H. Kimball, who commissioned six designs.  Keefe designed the first order to appeal to different personalities including the sportswoman, antique collector and musician.  They were bought up quickly and a very happy Lord & Taylor promoted her work and never stopped placing orders.  The perfection of silk-screen printing on mass-produced fabric and the availability of colorfast dyes in many colors after World War II helped make this possible.  During a time when many handkerchief designs were created anonymously, J.H. Kimball produced stylish silk-screened handkerchiefs with a signature at the corner.  Of these, the most prolific was Tammis Keefe who created hundreds of handkerchief designs during her brief career, from 1944 to 1960.  

"Color is the most important factor 
in design generally, 
and in handkerchief design, specifically, 
color prepares the emotions for the design itself, 
as music sets the mood of the Play."
~ Tammis Keefe, 1952 Craft Horizons

DS4714 Night Owl (Blue) 
DN4933 Contented Cats (Mustard)
DS4714 Night Owl (Red)

Name a theme or thing, and she most likely created a design for it.

Her signed handkerchiefs printed on fine linen or cotton were a collector’s item even then during a time when the handkerchief was on the way out and Kleenex tissues were rapidly taking over. Her new handkerchief designs were eagerly awaited for by a public that could buy one for fifty cents to one dollar. Many people framed them to display on the wall. Other high-end stores around the country also sold her handkerchiefs. Each design was usually printed in up to six different colorways. Keefe also produced a second line of handkerchiefs for Kimball she signed Peg Thomas (the name her family called her at home plus her middle name) for retailers that wanted her look, but for marketing reasons couldn’t sell her Tammis Keefe signature line.

Keefe planned a handkerchief design in pencil on tracing paper, then used a light box or graphite paper to transfer the sketch onto illustration board (designs were full size, usually 14¾ inches) and with four or five colors, painted designs in watercolors. This original design was then used as the master for the printer who transferred it onto finely woven linen with hand rolled hems. It would be a treasure indeed to find one of her croquis (original hand painted designs).

In a 1949 San Francisco Chronicle article, while Keefe was in town promoting her new line of Christmas handkerchiefs which were being sold by the high end department store Joseph Magnin (Joseph was a son of I. Magnin and started his own store), she said, “Handkerchiefs are fun to do, and I try to make them fun to give.” 
"Whenever possible 
I like to introduce the three dimensional in prints. 
I like depth in a fabric. 
I also like the introduction of current objects 
treated artistically. 
Warm colors are my favorites: beige, tan, brown 
with the addition of some cool color for relief." 
~Tammis Keefe
1948 American Fabrics

Keefe worked without a staff, but sometimes engaged an assistant.  She employed publicist, Rea Lubar, a renowned fashion industry publicist, which helped boost Keefe’s career and keep her witty personality and designs in the limelight.

Not much is known of Keefe’s life, so any insights are to be relished. Following is a description of her studio apartment in Greenwich Village, New York (perhaps somewhere on East 10th Street) from a February 28, 1951 Christian Science Monitor article: “Being from California, I like things to be spacious, serene and simple, as well as colorful,” she (Keefe) says.  So white, gray, green, black and vermilion red pleasingly companion one another in her living room.  One long white wall is broken by a simple, low fireplace of black slate, framed by big leafy plants.

Opposite the white wall is a blue-green one, against which she has placed a six-foot, white marble-topped table (used for her informal buffet suppers), and a platinum gray couch with Kelly green cushions. Casement windows which line another blue-green wall are curtained with fabric of her own design in chartreuse, Kelly, and navy blue, which can be pulled straight across on a traverse rod to make a solid wall of drapery.

A black 3 by 5 foot coffee table sits before her sofa, which is covered in a black nubby texture shot with gold thread.  Pictures in the room are framed with white.  The rug is gray, and the pillows placed here and there about the room are vermilion red.  Though she indicates the tendency away from ‘sunshine colors,’ she has used them freely and effectively in the pleasant studio which adjoins her living room. The walls and ceiling are all white, but curtains are a lemon yellow and the couch is covered in orange, subtracting quickly any lurking ‘laboratory’ look.”

DS4721 Tammis Cats (Red)
DS4720 Tammis Dogs (Red)
 DS4721 Tammis Cats (Gray)
 DS4721 Tammis Dogs (Gray)

Keefe also stated in this same article, “Cloth is one of the most beautiful and vibrant things in the world.” And further said that, “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 surely did this during her brief, but very creative and fruitful life.

The above exhaustive background info researched by Marlene Radigue (thanks Marlene!)

• We wish to thank Ms. Karen Liebert for all the information she had researched already to create a genealogy of Ms. Keefe, which we used extensively in our own research.

• We also wish to thank Ruth Stone Berg, direct cousin of Tammis Keefe, who, along with information, supplied the beautiful photograph of Tammis. 

Friday, November 5, 2010

Houston Quilt Market video

part 2
opening day 
Houston Quilt market
the Scene in front and behind at 
Michael Miller Fabrics
(you'll want the audio on for this)
video by Shawn Wallace

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Quilt market set up

The day before set up,
picking up props ironing out last minute details
first stop
in business 64 years
Mother & daughter
amazing artistry, 
 her mother asked for a Makita sander for her birthday
next stop
checked out this place
dog friendly, pool table , wi-fi
but closed
so we went next door 
no dogs allowed
but an awesome Texas size BLT
Set Up
a day and a half 
 to make it all happen
here's part one:
video by Shawn