A Visit With Sam Maloof

In conjunction with their 9th annual conference which was held at San Diego State University this year, the Furniture Society arranged for a pre-conference bus tour to the home and studio of Sam Maloof in Alta Loma, California. Although I have met Sam on half a dozen occasions over the years, this was the first time I was able to visit his home. Sam Maloof is a contemporary American Icon of furniture making. His resume and list of exhibitions and awards, although too numerous to mention, include visits with Jimmy Carter and work in the collection of the White House as well as the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art.

At 89 years of age, Sam still goes to work everyday in his studio. As my wife Victoria and I walked up the hill from the bus with our fellow conference visitors, Sam was waiting there in the courtyard outside his woodshop to greet us. The sawdust on his shirt said it all. What a true inspiration it was to see this fine Master Craftsman, almost 90 years old, going strong in the shop making some of the finest, hand crafted furniture available today.

Sam, accompanied by his docents, then led us on a guided tour of his workshop, studio and home. When we reached his bandsaw, a 36 inch Aggazani, Sam gave us one of his now famous demonstrations of how he shapes the individual parts of his chairs by freehand bandsawing compound curves. He warned us that what he does is dangerous and that he does not recommend this method to woodworkers but being self taught, he has become comfortable with this technique.

As we continued on through the grounds and house, evidence of Sam and Freda’s love of fine craft was everywhere. Alfreda, Sam’s late first wife and partner of fifty years, is credited for believing in Sam’s abilities as a craftsman and in helping him to struggle along through the lean years. Their efforts were rewarded hugely in 1985 when Sam was named a MacArthur Fellow. Maloof had been granted one of the coveted “genius” awards, since 1981 annually conferred on “exceptionally talented and promising individuals who have shown evidence of originality, dedication to creative pursuits and capacity for self direction”. He also learned he would receive a total of $375,000, a tax free sum to be dispensed over the five year period of the fellowship, no strings attached. Maloof was stunned.

Despite all of Sam’s success and fame, he remains a humble, down to earth gentleman who is very friendly and giving of himself. He believes in teaching his fellow crafts persons in hopes of sparing them some of the pitfalls that he has found along his way. Sam has been and remains to be one of the greatest teachers and sources of inspiration to woodworkers everywhere.

Thank you Sam for your contribution to the craft!

Photo: Sam Maloof, Victoria Marks, David Marks

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