Tammis Keefe, A Rockstar of Mid-century Whimsy

By Amanda Kramp, Guest Contributor

Editors Note: I’m thrilled to share this guest post by the Assistant Curator of Collections at Turtle Bay Exploration Park & Museum in Redding, California. Amanda was the curator of an exhibit of handkerchiefs, currently on view, and positioned directly across from the Iconic Fashion exhibit I curated at Turtle Bay. Just another reason to go and see what’s new and up on the walls!

Adventurous and career-minded, Tammis Keefe was a wildly successful Mid-century textile designer and colorist. Born in Los Angeles in 1913, she was on track to secure a degree in higher mathematics when her world was forever transformed during a visit to the Chicago World’s Fair and the Chicago Art Institute in 1933. Inspired to switch her major to painting, she enrolled in the Chouinard Art School, now California Institute of the Arts. From there, Keefe was recruited to Disney Studios, as was a common practice at the time. Later, Keefe moved to San Francisco and worked as Art Director for Arts & Architecture magazine, one of the leading periodicals of architecture, art, and music in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

While in San Francisco, Keefe met Dorothy Leibes who was renowned for her innovative, custom-designed modern fabrics for architects and interior designers. Keefe obtained a position as colorist and print designer in Liebes’ San Francisco studio, and later in 1948, in her New York studio.

Keefe’s career skyrocketed as her work was featured in advertisements featuring trends in modern textiles. She went on to design home furnishing fabrics such as curtains, upholstery, and wallpaper, as well as kitchen linens like towels, tablecloths, cocktail napkins, and placemats with matching napkin sets.

She also designed shirts for men and women, Christmas cards, playing cards, glassware, dishware, and product advertising and packaging. As one of the first textile artists to sign her work, she became well-known for her creative and whimsical illustration style and her application of bright, bold, and contrasting colors. Her pieces have been featured at New York’s Museum of Modern Art and can be found in numerous collections, including Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California. Today she is best known for her highly collectible handkerchiefs, linen kitchen towels, and scarves.

Keefe’s designs are whimsical, witty, and vibrant, reflecting the post-WWII sentiments of relaxation, comfort, and prosperity while including a variety of aesthetic expressions that appeal to many personal tastes. She was often inspired by her travels around the globe and by her love of nature and animals, but she also implemented figural and ornamental motifs. Keefe had a sharp wit that came through in many of her imaginative designs. She is best known for her handkerchiefs and scarves. It is estimated she produced over 400 designs in her lifetime!

Sadly, Tammis Keefe passed away in 1960 from lung cancer. However, her prints were so popular and beloved that they were reprinted by Michael Miller Fabrics in 2013. The company donated all the royalties from the Tammis Keefe line to fund cancer research.

Amanda Kramp is the Assistant Curator of Collections and Exhibitions at Turtle Bay Exploration Park in Redding, California. Having worked at about half a dozen museums, she’s produced an eclectic range of exhibition content relating to sugar plantations, shipwrecks, Pre-Columbian ceramics, Bigfoot, forestry products, textiles, and cocktail history, to name a few.

Continue Reading

Mermaids and Silkworms: A Review of Akihiko Izukura: The Way of Natural Textiles

2017-01-28 10.59.51-1wtmk

A recent vacation to Maui afforded me the opportunity to visit the Maui Arts & Cultural Center to see their current (and staggeringly beautiful) exhibit “Akihiko Izukura: The Way of Natural Textiles” (on view through March 19, 2017).

Stepping into the exhibit we were greeted with a large installation of hand-made silk orbs suspended in a large silk tube (“Eternal”). The desire to step inside the tubes and explore was strong, and we quickly learned that if we removed our shoes we could do exactly that.

2017-01-28 10.49.01wtmkIt was a magical experience to be in, and surrounded by silk made by tens of thousands of silkworms and hand-spun on an Edo period (1603-1868) spinning wheel by master craftsman Akihiko Izukura in only three months. Not surprisingly, “Eternal” was created to reflect the artists inspiration from the natural world, employing natural shapes, dyes, and materials. By contrast, the suspended panels of fabric surrounding the tube, 24 in all, took the artist three years. These panels show a variety of textures and patterns, but all created natural feeling permeable membranes.

2017-01-28 10.56.07wtmkThe reality of his work was informed by a small case containing the spinning wheel, dyes, silk-worm cocoons and other materials used with information on the craftsman’s history and process.

“Akihiko Izukura was born in 1942 to a family with a long history as Obi weavers in Nishijin, Kyoto, Japan. After formal studies at university and working in the family textile business he began his own personal journey into Ito-Shirabe (research on thread) learning complex ancient structures of weaving and braiding, mastering techniques of the Edo period that were nearly lost. His experience took him further into the ancient complicated techniques of ‘Ra’ (gossamer) and “Kara Kumi’ (braiding).”

2017-01-28 10.51.33wtmk“Years of research and hard work led him to his current philosophy of creating fabric or garments honoring sustainability and symbiosis with nature and the silkworm. His elaborated dialog within weaving, netting, braiding, entwining and dyeing led him to discover relationships between nature and man. his current work Senshoku-do includes eight methods: dyeing, reeling, spinning, plying, with four textile methods of weaving, braiding, netting and entwining.”

No wonder I was drawn to this work! Ancient techniques, research, and deep study of the history of thread certainly explained the amazing pieces on display. Quiet contemplative music filled the galleries, and as we left the larger objects behind we came to objects with more obvious purposes and more commercial appeal. Beautiful wall hangings, scarves, Kimono, obi, dresses, and jackets created using the same techniques (some of which were for sale).

2017-01-28 11.05.04wtmk2017-01-28 11.03.11wtmkTextures, colors, and woven shapes all seemed to reflect the experience we had been having in Maui – reminiscent of water, fish, seaweed and even mermaids.  Mariano Fortuny and Issey Miyake both felt referenced in the creation of the garments and textiles, especially the mermaid-like dresses that hung suspended between large swaths of fabric. A jacket in yellows and oranges at once reminded me of Fortuny, Miyake, and the way light filters through the ocean.

I left the exhibition feeling as if I’d been in an ethereal underwater world with shapes that reminded me of some of the more challenging knitted pieces I’d attempted to create myself. If you happen to be so lucky as to be in Maui – run don’t walk to see this marvelous show. (The exhibition catalog sold you in less than 3 weeks).

For an arm-chair tour, visit the gallery below:

Continue Reading

CSA Western Region announces mini-Symposium and tour in Edmonton, Canada

The Costume Society of America Western Region, in conjunction with the University of Alberta, Edmonton presents the international conference: Dressing Global Bodies: Clothing Cultures, Politics and Economics in Globalizing Eras, c. 1600’s-1900s to be held July 7-9, 2016.

ec13ca1c-b605-42e2-a35a-e29581ea1b65On Sunday, July 10, 2016, following the International Conference, CSA Western Region is hosting a morning mini-symposium and an afternoon tour of the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village (transportation is included).

Although the Royal Alberta Museum is closed for renovations, attendees will get a private look at special pieces from their collection. The morning will include a special slide tour of local textile collections by guest speakers, and attendees will hear from the 2014 Jack Handford Intern about her experiences at the De Young Museum in San Francisco, and the benefits of this semi-annual award. After enjoying a box lunch attendees will depart via provided transportation to the Ukranian Culture Heritage Village, a living history museum.


8:45-9:15 Registration

9:15-12 Morning program at the Museum Theatre:

  • Slide tour: Highlights of the Costume Collection of the Western Canadian History program.  The collection houses over 25,000 articles of dress and domestic textiles related to life in Alberta.
  • Paper: Hutterite Samplers and Embroidered Calligraphy, Lucie Heins, assistant curator Western Canadian History.

Coffee break

  • Paper: Costume Storage: Addressing Conservation and Curatorial Interests at the de Young Collection Jack Handford Internship presentation by Christina Frank, MA.
  • Paper: An introduction to Ukrainian textiles in Alberta, Larisa Cheladyn. Slide presentation of costuming and household textiles, with some reference to religious and other unique items will be the preparation for our afternoon tour.

12 – 1:30 Catered lunch at the museum. Have your lunch in the sunny theatre lobby or outdoors in the museum’s park-like setting above the North Saskatchewan River valley.

1:30 Luxury coach to the Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village, a 160-acre living history museum tracing the history of Ukrainian settlement in east central Alberta. Enjoy a one-hour tour by costume curators Joy Schellenberg and Becky Dahl. Participants will have one hour on their own at the Village before traveling back to Edmonton on the bus.

Registration and more information here.

Ukrainian Cultural Heritage Village

Continue Reading

News Alert: Museum of Craft & Folk Art to close December 1st

Thursday September 20, 2012


The Museum of Craft and Folk Art (MOCFA) on Yerba Buena Lane announces that it will be closing its doors on December 1, 2012 at the end of the run of its current international exhibition “Fiber Futures: Japan’s Textile Pioneers.”

Sustainability in the current economic climate, with reduced funding for the arts, was a significant factor in the decision, but Museum leadership also felt that, in many ways, MOCFA had achieved its essential mission.

“MOCFA has been a leading platform for critical discussions and a change in perspective around craft and folk art in the contemporary art field,” says MOCFA director Jennifer McCabe. “Contemporary artists who engage in craft traditions are now embraced by the contemporary art market and by larger venues including leading museums, which was generally not the case when we began. We would like to frame the closing of the Museum on its 30th anniversary as a celebration of the incredible contributions MOCFA has made in the Bay Area and beyond. The organization should be remembered for its groundbreaking exhibitions, a commitment to arts education in schools, and its strong ties in the community. We would like to thank the generosity of our funders, not all of who can be mentioned here but include: MOCFA Board of Directors, Fleishhacker Foundation, Gertrud and Harold Parker, Grants for the Arts/San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, Kimball Foundation, Bernard Osher Foundation, Walter & Elise Haas Fund, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Zellerbach Family Foundation, Millennium Partners, and all Museum members and friends.”

MOCFA Board Chair, Elaine Connell adds, “The Museum of Craft and Folk Art is proud of its 30-year history, but due to material changes and the economic climate, the Board of Directors is saddened to inform the public of MOCFA’s imminent closure. While decisions of this magnitude are never easy, we are proud to be closing at such a high point in the organization’s history, and thankful for the leadership of Director Jennifer McCabe, along with Curator Natasha Boas, Educator Linda Janklow, and all the amazing staff who have contributed immensely to exhibitions and public programs.”

Founded in 1982 by craft artist and patron of the arts Gertrud Parker, the Museum’s mission has been to “provide exhibitions and educational programs to enrich and inspire, honor cultural traditions past and present, and celebrate the creative spirit.” MOCFA has provided innovative exhibitions and educational programs that have been designed to connect with and inspire diverse communities and served the Bay Area, as well as San Francisco visitors.

As the only folk art museum in Northern California, the Museum has been recognized for its rich offering of focused and unique exhibitions of traditional and contemporary folk art and craft from around the world — demonstrating how folk art, contemporary craft, and fine art are all part of the same continuum.

Over the past 30 years, the Museum has exhibited hundreds of artists and significant local and national craft and folk art collections such as “Will the Circle Be Unbroken: Four Generations of African-American Quiltmakers”;  “Emblems of Passage: Art of Africa, Oceania, and the Americas”;  “June Schwarz: Enameled Bowls and Wall Pieces”;  “The Road to Heaven is Built by Good Works: Southern Visionaries”;  “Not So Naive: Bay Area Artists and Outsider Art”; “The Art of Gaman: Arts and Crafts From the Japanese Internment Camp 1942-1946”; and “Simply Shaker: The Ben and Toby Rose Collection of Shaker Arts and Crafts.”

In the new Yerba Buena Lane space, MOCFA enjoyed critical acclaim and strong admission numbers for its lively and engaging exhibitions, such as “E is for Everyone: Celebrating Sister Corita”; “Volver: Mexican Folk Art into Play”; “Clare Rojas: We They, We They”; “Rhythm and Hues: Cloth and Culture of Mali”; “Open Source Embroidery”; “Inside/Outside: Artist Environments”; and “The Shape of Things: Paper Traditions and Transformations.”

The Museum has been dedicated to working with artists on commissions of new work as well as promoting artist-led projects and public programs.

MOCFA’s monthly CRAFT BAR series in partnership with ETSY has become a San Francisco tradition with an avid following of makers who converge on the Museum and on Yerba Buena Lane to socialize, learn new skills, and take something handmade home. CRAFT BAR has become a model for many national museums like the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian and has been presented at meetings of the California Association of Museums and American Association of Museums, as well as at Maker Faire and the American Craft Council. The program Thinking by Hand was created as a quarterly conversation platform that takes place in MOCFA’s gallery and engages the growing number of constituencies interested in the nuances of materiality and its creation of meaning, and has included such guests as Heath Ceramics, Christina Kim of DOSA, and textile expert Yoshiko Wada. Make It @ MOCFA is a monthly family-friendly workshop designed in conjunction with exhibitions and in collaboration with visiting artists.

MOCFA’s award-winning educational outreach program has explored global artistic traditions and innovations through hands-on art making workshops customized for K-12 grades fostering self-esteem and respect for cultural diversity.

“Craft and folk art traditions infuse today’s most dynamic artists and artistic practices and San Francisco has always been a locus for serious experimentation in arts and crafts and social practice,” says Natasha Boas, MOCFA Curator. “It is our hope that the innovative exhibitions, public programs, and conversations that have been seeded at MOCFA will continue to be promoted and supported by our larger San Francisco arts institutions.”

In lieu of a closing party, please join the MOCFA board, staff and volunteers for a members’ reception for Fiber Futures x2 from 5-8 pm on Friday October 12, 2012. Visit mocfa.org for more information.”

Continue Reading