If it is true that being copied often proves one was good at her art, then Tammis Keefe was certainly good. I’ve written about how Keefe’s designs pop up from time to time on Christmas plates and fabrics and handbags. Unfortunately, she is usually not credited, with the exception of the current Michael Miller fabrics. I’m really glad the Michael Miller company has done this line, as it has spread Keefe’s name past the vintage community to a larger audience.
Tammis Keefe is one of the great names of hankie and textile collecting. She was born Margaret Thomas Keefe in 1913. After attending art school in the mid 1930s, she worked in advertising design and as a textile print designer, designing prints for home furnishing textiles. In the late 1940s she worked with Dorothy Wright Liebes, designing textiles for Goodall Industries and other makers of domestic textiles.
She began designing handkerchiefs for Kimbal scarves in the late 1940s after a friend showed a gift Keefe had made for her birthday to a buyer at Lord & Taylor. The buyer in turn showed the scarf to Kimbal, who commissioned six designs from Keefe. Over the next years, Keefe designed hundreds of hankies for Kimbal. Her designs are typically 1950s – full of whimsy with those great 1950s colors: pink, turquoise, gold and black.
Keefe’s designs were often inspired by her travels. One can find Oriental, Arabian nights, and European castle themed hankies. She also did hankies featuring American cities and attractions. Many of these hankies were like little travel guides, showing the highlights of a city that were not to be missed. Keefe’s work also shows a love of nature and animals. Her dog and cat hankies are true 1950s classics. Other designs to look for are her antique furniture and motifs, holidays including Christmas and Valentine’s Day, and the special designs she made for the famous 21 Club in New York. Also, hankies signed Peg Thomas are Tammis Keefe designs.
Keefe’s hankies are most prized, but look also for linens and fabrics with her signature. Her designs for the kitchen are just as clever and fresh as her hankies. Silk scarves with the Tammis Keefe signature are rarer, but do surface from time to time. Even rarer are clothing items she designed for the Marlboro Shirt Company. There are even greeting cards, published by the Irene Dash Card Company, and playing cards from Random Thoughts.
There are hundreds of Keefe designs from which to choose, as she was quite prolific, especially considering that she died in 1960 and had a relatively short career.
Update: A very nice ebay seller, putting*ontheritz emailed some photos of Tammis Keefe hankies that came from the collection of an 85 year old woman. Some of these I’ve never seen before.