Tammis Keefe (1913 – 1960) American Textile Designer

Vintage Tammis Keefe Linen Handkerchief, Princely Pursuits, Arabian Knights on Horseback, Brown with Blue Border

Tammis Keefe (1913–1960) was an American textile designer. “Americans do too have good taste,” said Tammis Keefe, the textile designer whose tigers and steers were rampant on dish towels and barbecue tablecloths all over 1950s America. “I’m sick and tired of hearing people sneer at American design and American taste,” said the blonde, blue-eyed Tammis.

Margaret Keefe was born Margaret Thomas in 1913. Tammis, who hailed from California, designed everything from dish towels to glassware in her airy Dorothy Leibis Studio in New York. She made her reputation as a textile designer and, before she died, was branching out in all directions.

Education

She began her studies in mathematics at Los Angeles Community College. After a trip to Chicago to see the 1933–1934 World’s Fair, she changed her major to art at the Chouinard Art School in Los Angeles. After graduation, she became the Art Director of Arts and Architecture magazine during World War II.

Biography

By 1948, Keefe was working as a textile designer for Dorothy Leibis Studio in New York City, which provided textile designs to the furnishing firm, Goodall Industries. She also created freelance designs for other home décor lines and wallpaper for various firms. Later, she began designing handkerchiefs commissioned by J. H. Kimball for Lord & Taylor in New York. Keefe was best known for her bright, playful designs on handkerchiefs, kitchen towels, and scarves.

Vintage Tammis Keefe Cocktail Napkin Pink Persian On Horseback Mid Century Retro Bar Cloth Coaster

Style

Tammis loved to dream up fantastic designs for dish towels and tablecloths. Before putting out her series of barbecue cloths decorated with steaks, chops, and somewhat zany cattle, she spent days in scientific consultation with her butcher, learning the anatomical parts of steers and the cuts best suited for the barbecue.  Tammis also designed cheerful handkerchiefs to cheer up anybody even with a runny nose.

On June 5, 1960, she died prematurely of cancer.

Exhibitions

Her work can be found at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cooper Hewitt and the Museum at the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Sources

Byars, M., & Riley, T. (2004). The design encyclopedia. Laurence King Publishing. https://amzn.to/3ElmSlL

Roe, D. (1957, October 25). Tammis Keefe – American textile designer – Newspapers.com. Newspapers.Com; http://www.newspapers.com. https://www.newspapers.com/clip/106588858/tammis-keefe-american-textile-designer/

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