Happy Fourth of July!
Once again millions of Americans will be celebrating Independence Day with family, friends, fireworks, and food! Whether gathering in the backyard, “the lake,” or one of our beautiful parks, many of us will enjoy a Fourth of July feast outdoors. Some of us may be carrying out chicken or pizza, while others will be enjoying homemade fare. We probably don’t think much as to how these July 4th outings have changed over the decades… Who still has a wicker picnic basket and uses it?
How many parks still have the handy grill next to the picnic tables to grill burgers and dogs? How many mothers still pack a tablecloth along with the potato salad? All these questions came to my mind when I found this 1950’s tablecloth with a grilling theme. With its gray squares and vibrant timeless designs of pigs, chickens, and grilling utensils, I knew it was calling me back to the 1950s.
What I did not initially know, is this specific tablecloth has a storied past written on it: In black script is the name Tammis Keefe.
According to Ellen Katz’s website tammiskeefe.com “Tammis Keefe was born Margaret Thomas Keefe in 1913. Originally a math major in college, she transferred to the Chouinard Institute of Art, now part of the California Institute of the Arts. As did many Chouinard graduates, Keefe worked for the Disney studios, and later became art director of the influential periodical Arts and Architecture, a publication renowned for innovative layout and graphic design. Next followed a stint in the California studio of textile artist, Dorothy Liebes, who mentored many young designers.
Long before Gloria Vanderbilt and her blue jeans, Keefe became one of the first women to sign her name conspicuously on her work and to achieve name recognition. Lord & Taylor Manhattan even took out a full-page ad in The New York Times for a “Meet the Designer” day to introduce Keefe and a new line of furnishing fabrics. At the time, the major department chains, such as Lord & Taylor and Wanamaker’s, were still temple complexes to the gods of mercantilism, with their own home furnishing departments whose buyers had national clout and influence.
A photogenic “girl artist,” as one newspaper referred to her, Keefe was featured in many contemporaneous newspaper articles, periodicals, and books; some of which are featured in this website. Long a favorite of textile afficionados, Keefe has been rediscovered in recent years by a wider audience through inclusion in events such as “A Woman’s Hand: Designing Textiles in America, 1945-1969,” an exhibit of work by women designers at the Fashion Institute of Technology in 2000.
Before her death at age forty-six in 1960 (from cancer), Keefe produced approximately four hundred designs for handkerchiefs and at least one hundred for dishtowels, all featuring her trademarks of unexpected color and subtle wit.”
I find it interesting that the site mentions the number of handkerchiefs and dishtowels Tammis designed but does not mention the number of tablecloths. It makes one wonder if she designed fewer of them, and they are consequently rarer. Go to: fishinkblog.com/2013/08/28/tammis-keefe-mid-century-textile-designer/ and enjoy her designs. They make me want to grab my treasured tablecloth, pack my picnic basket, and head to the fireworks!
Lois Levihn is the owner of Born Again Quilts where “Frankenblankies” are brought back to life. If you have a textile story to share, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or 260-515-9446.