Monday, May 25, 2009

Sam Maloof (1916-2009)

Sam Maloof rocking chair

The eminent American woodworker Sam Maloof died just a few days ago at age 93. His work was celebrated for its originality, craftsmanship, simplicity, and elegance. The child of Lebanese immigrants, he was largely self-taught, beginning his woodworking career as a practical way to furnish his and his wife's first house, a simple tract home. He began making furniture out of scraps of discarded fir plywood and oak shipping crates, since they could not afford finished pieces.

Maloof's work was likewise originally valued for its utility, comfort, and functionality, though his freely conceived, even organic designs would eventually be valued as high art. He was the first craftsman to win a MacArthur grant, in 1985, and his furniture was prized by collectors, curators, even presidents. (Jimmy Carter, who visited Maloof at his home in California, called him "my woodworking hero.")

He didn't work from plans, preferring to select a piece of wood and then execute a design that he initially pictured only in his imagination. He made freehand cuts with a band saw to shape the flowing curves that characterized many of his pieces. He was known for his innovative joinery, which never used nails or any sort of hardware. (He once tested the solidness of the joints in a chair he'd built by dropping it off the garage roof: the joints held.) Walnut was one of his favorite materials, though he eventually would come to store more than a half-million board feet of various rare lumbers at his workshop.

Maloof created about 50 pieces of furniture a year, working largely alone. Rather than trying to appeal to a larger audience he followed his own tastes, turning down multi-million dollar offers to mass produce his designs. His home, which has been designated a national historic site, grew gradually over the years into a sprawling property that housed hundreds of his own pieces.

Maloof's home: he added rooms over several decades

Below is a table in a style inspired by Maloof - particularly the direct joining of the legs to the tabletop, which was a Maloof motif. No aprons involved - the tenons are in the tabletop itself.

Q & A with Sam Maloof (from the Smithsonian Magazine)

Where do you get the ideas for your work?
They happen.

Do you work alone on your craft, or with others?
I design and put all pieces together - have 3 co-workers.

Do you ever teach, or take on apprentices?
I give 2 workshops a year for the University of California -Riverside, and also teach at Anderson Ranch, Snowmass, Colorado.

What's the most exciting part of creating your works?
Viewing the end result.

What's the most difficult part of creating your works?

What sort of technology do you use in your work? Has the technology of your craft changed dramatically over the past 100 years?
Common sense. For the true woodworker, not much.

Do you have any advice for somebody just starting out?
Discipline - integrity.

Can you share a "secret of the trade" with us--something nobody else knows or that you found out only after years of experience? Put another way--what do you wish somebody had told you when you were just starting out that might have saved you hours of wasted effort?
There are no secrets. That it was going to be difficult.

What are we missing by experiencing your work through the Internet and not seeing/hearing/feeling/smelling/touching it in person?
Nothing will take the place feeling - touching etc. - but the Internet will let those who cannot attend an exhibit become a part of what is happening.

1 comment:

Interiorexpress said...

maloof, krenoff and nakashima, those were three of the last great furniture woodworkers that i know of. incredibly sad and hurtful for the industry.