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In Memoriam: Sam Maloof (1916-2009)
May 27, 2009

Maloof Rocker

Sam Maloof's Rocker

As I'm writing this quick post so that we can ask those of you who knew Sam Maloof, or just admired his work, to share your stories about him, I'm surprised at how hard it is. I never get star-struck, so it's not that Maloof was considered a rock star of the craft world attracting hundreds of admirers at public events, or that he was the first craft artist to receive a coveted MacArthur Foundation Fellowship or "genius" grant. But there was something about Sam Maloof that makes him stick with you. It wasn't just that he was kind and generous; there was an energy about him that was truly inspiring.

I worked with Maloof during the summer of 2001, as did many staff members, preparing to open his first retrospective The Furniture of Sam Maloof. The press preview was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, September 11, 2001. We knew something was not right when all the cameramen's cell phones rang at the same time and they started packing their gear. I remember standing quietly with Maloof in the security office at the Renwick Gallery, across the street from the White House, watching the terrible scenes in New York City unfold on TV. So whenever I'm asked "where were you on 9/11?" I think about the vital and positive man Sam Maloof, and the contrast to the events that day is stunning each time.

If you miss him as much as we do at the Museum, re-visit the microsite we created for his retrospective, "Maloof on Maloof." It would be a fitting tribute to this craftsman who connected with so many people — from hobbyists to former U.S. Presidents — to collect stories about how he touched people's lives either in person or through his furniture. So let us know how you remember him.

Posted by Laura on May 27, 2009 in American Art Everywhere


I guess I'll be the first with my.... Eye Level.

While others view just the tip of the Sam Maloof iceberg, I like what's below the surface. Maloof is so much more than just a rocker.

To me his genius was presenting the "production" of wood craft. Being a student of furniture, I have always been intrigued that in the California Design Exhibits, Maloof showed with Eames. Limited Production and mass production.

My foundation is in furniture manufacturing and from Sam Maloof I learned that a balance exists between machine and hand tools and to simply the manufacturing process in exchange for higher quality.

I look at Sam Maloof differently than most and that has made me a better furniture manufacturer.

I first met Sam Maloof a little over two years ago at the opening of the Crafts in America exhibition here in Little Rock. He gave a talk and slide show, which at one point showed the casket that he had built for Alfreda after her death. My wife had died the previous month, and I had just completed the box for her ashes the day before. Needless to say, I about lost it. After the talk, I met his current wife, Beverly, who was told of my loss by a friend, and she introduced me to Sam. He was one of the kindest and most humble men I have ever met. He could command whatever price he wanted for whatever he made, and we connected just as two men who liked to cut up wood and put it back together.

I was leaving the next day for a trip to the Grand Canyon and the west coast, and was invited to drop in at the compound in Alta Loma. When I got there the following week, I received a total tour of his new house, the old house, his shop - everything. He was astoundingly gracious to another star struck woodworker, but that was Sam.
He had a long and full life, living his dream. Although I'm sad at his passing, Ecclesiastes kicks in, and I'm just grateful at being allowed a little time to know this remarkable individual.

I am saddened by the death of this legendary artist. Though I did not know him, by simply visually taking in one of his stunning works of furniture, one could get a sense that somehow, each piece must have been autobiographical. No one seemed to be able to touch his elegance and mastery in detail and I am grateful that the world has been touched by his grace and extraordinary skill. Cheers, Mr. Maloof!

Wow--I was just reading an article yesterday and fondly remembered the Sam Maloof retrospective at the Renwick from 2001.

Like so many others whom he met, Sam was a great inspiration to me, both as a fledgling solo woodworker, and as a person. Having already read much about him, particularly his autobiography, I first met him at his seminar in Snowmass, CO. What a teacher!

Alfreda was there as well and struck up a friendship with my wife, Laura, inviting us to visit them in CA with our two boys. Fortunately we did so the summer before Freda passed away.

One of our last visits with Sam occurred in DC, the Saturday after 9/11. We wanted to see his exhibition but the Renwick was locked down as part of the White House security zone. Sam wasn't feeling well, but Beverly graciously invited us up to their hotel room where we had a great visit, though mostly subdued by the horrific events of that week.

Looking back on that moment in time when the retrospective celebration of Sam's remarkable life was forestalled by the absolute evil inflicted on our country, the unique wonder of his undying spirit seems even more precious. May he rest in peace.

Sam was my representative GENTLE MAN and so I will miss him. Thank you Sam.

To paraphrase Lincoln, Sam represented the better angels of our nature. Good bye and farewell.

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