Designer Desire: Tammis Keefe

Mosaic of Tammis Keefe designs | H is for Home

Today’s Designer Desire choice is someone we’ve written about in the past. Tammis Keefe (1913-1960) was a prolific, mid century designer whose output was primarily in the textile sphere. Handkerchiefs, scarves, place mats, cocktail napkins, tablecloths and tea towels can all be found sporting her playful illustrations. There are hundreds of different designs in existence.

Her work is highly collectable was included in a 2000 exhibition at the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York entitled A Woman’s Hand: Designing Textiles in America, 1945-1969. She’s also included in the book, Collecting Handkerchiefs.

There are always examples of her work available for sale online – mainly from the USA – on eBay and Etsy. Seeing as they weigh next to nothing, overseas postage shouldn’t add too much to the price of the item.

Portrait of Tammis Keefecredit

Image credits:

Etsy | Flickr

Tammis Keefe teatowel

"Tammis Keefe teatowel" blog post banner

detail from a Tammis Keefe teatowel with red & white hearts and the words, "Home is where the heart is"

We’ve long admired the designs of Tammis Keefe. No relation to Justin, although you may not have to go too far back in history before their family trees meet. It’s interesting that her middle name was Thomas – and her father’s name was Thomas – and that she adopted the name Tammis which we think is a Gaelic form of Thomas. Justin has the same marked tradition of Thomas Keefes & O’Keeffes in his family. Father, grandfather, great grandfather, great-great grandfather – stretching back to the 18th century.

Tammis Keefe teatowel with red & white hearts and the words, "Home is where the heart is"

Anyway, we’ve promised ourselves an example of Tammis Keefe’s work many times and it arrived recently. It’s very dangerous buying that first piece as it can be the start of a mad collecting frenzy. We’ve resisted for years, but this gorgeous “Home is where the heart is” tea towel was just the final straw! We had this piece shipped over from the States where most examples are to be found. It will look great when framed and be perfect for the kitchen wall – combining a vintage touch with warm sentiments. There’s also something very Christmassy about it so we might even save it for festive season appearances.

Tammis Keefe teatowel showing her signature

Tammis Keefe was born Margaret Thomas Keefe in Los Angeles in 1913 and, after initially studying maths at college, transferred to the Chouinard Institute of Art where she studied painting. Her early career was spent at Disney Studios – she then moved onto the influential Arts & Architecture periodical. Then followed a spell in the studio of textile artist Dorothy Liebes who was well known for developing the work of young designers. This was obviously a significant move with regards to her future career.

detail from a Tammis Keefe teatowel with red & white hearts

Her work from the 40s & 50s is very distinctive – full of wonderful graphic detail, colour, charm & wit. It was used on a great variety of home furnishing textiles, tea towels, place mats, napkins & handkerchiefs. Also clothing, crockery & glassware, wallpaper, stationery, product advertising & packaging. Sadly, she died relatively young in 1961, but has left such a wonderful legacy. And we’re pretty sure that this won’t be the last piece we acquire!

Here’s a list of further reading and examples of her work:

NWFestival | Making it Fun | Tammis Keefe | Flickr group