Local Profile: Remembering Sam Maloof (1916-2009)

On May 21, 2009, a local artisan who was declared a “living treasure of California” by the state legislature, passed away at the age of 93. Sam Maloof of Rancho Cucamonga was a truly legendary woodworker, one of the greatest artisans of his field. His furniture, from his signature rocking chairs up to larger pieces, commanded great respect and hefty prices. Maloof’s works found their way into not only into the homes and offices of celebrities and CEOs, but the Smithsonian, the White House, and even the Vatican. His homestead is now a museum in Alta Loma and the home of the Sam and Alfrieda Maloof Foundation. Jay Rodriguez, the Foundation’s former president, said, “In my mind, he was really the most famous woodworker in the entire world.” Local newspaper publisher Bob Balzer echoed the sentiment: "He was one of the most creative people I've ever met. Not only was he an outstanding craftsman, but a phenomenal artist and sculptor."

Samuel Solomon Maloof was born in Lebanon on January 24, 1916. When he was a child his parents immigrated to the United States, settling in the farm town of Chino, California. While still in high school, he won a poster contest and landed a job as a commercial artist in Claremont, working with industrial designers in the area. He taught himself the art of woodworking along the way, despite not having any friends or contacts who practiced it.

Following World War II, Maloof decided to turn his self-taught love of woodworking into a career. His connections with industrial designers opened doors for sales to people like famed designer Henry Dreyfuss. Maloof undertook U.S. State Department tours to locales around the world, where he not only studied local design but made more sales connections. His imagination was perhaps his greatest tool. Rodriguez said, “He would get an inspiration for a piece that he would see in his head and he would freehand cut out the piece and put it together to make it fulfill what he dreamed about in his head.”

Over time Maloof developed a singular artistic sense, and his works became acknowledged as genuine art pieces representative of a new American style. While his most famous pieces were his rocking chairs, he also designed dining chairs and tables, coffee tables, cradles, and even staircases. Maloof became a true celebrity in the art world, selling to presidents, movie stars, corporate figures and the occasional blue-collar worker who saved up for a genuine Maloof.

Above: one of Maloof’s rocking chairs in the museum housed at his former home.

In the 1950s Maloof and his family moved to Alta Loma, where he remained for the rest of his life. He became a highly visible figure in the community around Rancho Cucamonga, beloved by city officials and residents alike. When their 8,500-foot home had to be relocated to allow for expansion of the 210 Freeway, Maloof began designing a new home. Their prior house is now a museum which houses hundreds of pieces of memorabilia and furniture. His pieces can also be found in the permanent collections of other national museums, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Boston Museum of Art. A recent exhibition at Cal State San Bernardino’s Fullerton Art Museum presented eighty of his works and raised money for the university’s scholarship funds.

The Sam and Alfrieda Maloof Foundation was begun in 1994 to preserve Maloof’s art and encourage the arts and crafts movement in the Inland Empire and elsewhere. Alfrieda Maloof died in 1998, and in 2001 Maloof married Beverly Wingate, who had designed the landscape and gardens at the property.

Above: an exhibit of Maloof furniture at the Oceanside Museum of Art

Despite his fame and success, Maloof remained humble, friendly and encouraging. He would regularly invite art students to his home in Alta Loma to discuss their art as well as his own. In an interview a few years ago with the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin, Maloof said, “I've made a good living, and I've been very fortunate that people like what I do. When I make something, I still hope people like it. I'm happy I'm able to share what little I know.”

Below: Actress Rene Russo visits Sam Maloof:

Rancho Cucamonga Travel Video about Maloof and the museum at his home: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UAxwFdQC_w (sorry, we couldn’t embed this one, but it’s very interesting)

To view past profiles on Artists Work B.e.n.c.h, click below:

Dr. He Qi
Sandra Bowden
Laura Kramer (Psalm 23 Jewelry)
Chris Schlarb John Newton
Vincent van Gogh

1 comment:

Wendy said...

Sam's childhood home in Chino, a beautiful Craftsman home is being offered for sale. This home has been in the family since 1932. I have been in the Inland Empire myself since 1989 and have had the privilege of knowing Sam's nephew. If you would like to know more please email me. What a great idea to encourage these talented people to glorify God in all they do!