Sam Maloof (1916-2009)
Sam Maloof is America’s most renowned contemporary furniture craftsman. No other twentieth-century woodworker has received such attention in the media, nor garnered as many awards. Topping this list, in 1985 Maloof was the recipient of a John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation fellowship—the coveted “genius” grant typically awarded to scientists, scholars, and authors. To date, he is the only American craftsman to have been so privileged. Following up on this celebrity, in January 1986 a feature writer from People magazine visited his Southern California workshop and enthusiastically declared the furniture designer-craftsman to be the “Hemingway of hardwood.” -From the Introduction of The Furniture of Sam Maloof by Jeremy Adamson
Sam rose to prominence in the postwar era of minimalist architecture. For more than half a century, Sam was a force in the nucleus of artisans creating custom and strictly limited production pieces in the heralded studio furniture movement.
His work is appreciated by private collectors, and many widely respected Institutions, The Smithsonian, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts and the White House Craft Collection are among elite institutions where the general public now experiences classic Maloof designs and workmanship first hand.
Sam's marriage to Alfreda Maloof lasted until her death 50 years later, in 1998. A testament to their love, the non-profit Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for the Arts and Crafts is charged with the mission of encouraging artist to excel in craftmanship. The foundation is housed at the sprawling landmark family residence. Lovingly expanded over four decades, The National Register of Historic Places registered home is open to the public.
In 2001, the widower married collector Beverly Wingate. The new Mrs. Maloof took on developing the six acre garden to harmoniously frame the Maloof compound with California natives and Mediterranean climate compatible plantings. Dedicated in 2004, Beverly’s garden invites, delights and celebrates nature. A Certified Wildlife Habitat, the garden is a lesson wherein beauty can be simultaneously abundant and respectful of California’s limited water supplies.
Fans of Maloof furniture include former President Jimmy Carter, who called Sam his “woodworking hero.” Ray Charles the blind singer was another fan. He ran his hand over a Maloof chair and observed he could “feel it’s soul.”
Along with many awards and accolades, Sam received honorary doctorates from the Rhode Island School of Design, Aurora University in Illinois and the California State University of San Bernardino.
Much as been written about the life and career of Sam Maloof but who Sam was as a person might best be summed up with some of his own words about his work and his philosophy about life.
“I am a furniture designer and woodworker, perhaps in traditional manner, where craftsmanship and joinery are prime importance, and also where design is of equal if not more concern.” –Sam Maloof
“I try to live right. I always try to adhere to what I think is right, and that, to me, is the most important part of creative work. So much of me goes into each piece that I make that in making each new piece, a renewal takes place. So it continues: a renewal in my commitment to my work and what I believe.” –Sam Maloof
“Good furniture must convey a feeling of function, but also must be appealing to the eye. I never make conversation piece furniture… [and since] I’m not subject to the manufacturing syndrome, I don’t have to change for the sake of change. I just keep improving.” –Sam Maloof
“As long as there are men who have not forgotten how to work with their hands there will remain for the heritage of the craftsman a bright light of hope that began at the dawn of civilization.” –Sam Maloof
“I am passionate about my craft and the American Craft movement. For my work to be admired is one thing, but for my work to be used fulfills my purpose as a craftsman.” –Sam Maloof
“I hope that my happiness with what I do is reflected in my furniture…that it is vibrant, alive and friendly to the people who use it.” –Sam Maloof