Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Pocket Picasso: The Hanky Designs of Tammis Keefe

Antique tools that have fallen into disuse--for example fine old carpentry, kitchen, and farm implements--call out to be displayed as beautiful objects, their functionality fallen away in favor of their appeal as ingenuity and artistry in one.

In the fashion realm, the same can be said of a distinguished cadre of vintage hankies. Yes, hankies. We take for granted our disposable tissues and infrared taps, but not terribly long ago the pocket handkerchief was the sole way of keeping our germs to ourselves and others' wiped away at frequent intervals.

It was a dirty job, being a working hanky, so most of them were made of easily laundered and ironed cotton, perhaps with a bit of embroidery if the owner considered herself particularly fine.

But a few printed hankies also became art forms unto themselves. This entry is about Tammis Keefe, who was effectively an Old Master of this 15" canvas.

An American textile designer born in 1920, she applied the design ethos current in the '40s and '50s to the hankie format. City scenes, whimsical takes on man and beast, commonplace motifs made effortlessly charming, evoked in the candyshop colors and etched pen-and-ink outlines typical of the period.

The charm of her work speaks for itself, so have a look at the examples here: at top is a scene of ancient fishing boats, complete with barques, fishies, and Jonah himself, tucked comfortably inside a whale. This is from seller Xtina, whose other examples can be seen on Flickr here.

Tammis Keefe did other linens as well--at left is a fine tea towel featuring Carmen Miranda topped with her usual tower of fruit, plus a chicken, because why not. I can't imagine this being used to wipe up kitchen spills, but that avocado/brown plus the knockout blow of Carmen's cherry lips would look absolutely brilliant framed up in in somebody's midcentury modern-style kitchen. (thank you Maureen!)

One last one below: does it get any more '50s than harlequins and poodles? It does not. Vendor Go Hanky has loads more, just as cute.

To wrap it up: if you want some instant original decor for your flat or apartment and don't want to spend a fortune on more traditional graphics, why not frame up some Keefes. As works of art go, they are nothing to sneeze at.

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