Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sam Maloof

"Ray Charles couldn't see my furniture," Sam Maloof told a reporter. "But he said he could feel that it had soul. When he asked about my rocker [at a friend's house], his host told him, 'That's a chair made by Sam Maloof.' Ray ran his hands over the wood shouting, 'I know this man! I know this man!' On his next visit, the first thing Ray Charles said was, 'I'd like to touch that furniture again that Sam Maloof made.' "

I was fortunate to meet Sam Maloof about 9 years ago. My Dad headed the project to move Sam's house from it's original location (in the path of a freeway) to a new location after his house was declared eligible for the National Registry of Historic Places. Sam Maloof spent over 40 years hand-crafting his house. A beam made from the limb of an avocado tree he planted himself when it was only just a sapling, a hand carved wooden spiral staircase, furniture built to fit in special niches, hand carved door handles and latches - it's a house that tells a story. (Oh, and not to be forgotton were the incredible collections of Native American art that is enough to send a former Art History student like myself into a tailspin!) Now, all these years later, I consider myself extremely fortunate to have visited his home, on it's original parcel, before the move began. The house meandered and molded itself to fit the landscape. Groves of citrus and avocado determined the path of Sam's expansions. And somehow, the house was moved piece by piece and reconstructed exactly as it was - flaws and brilliance in tact.

This is the real deal, guys. Here was a craftsman. This is a real life example of a craftsman who was able to make a living from his CRAFT, and it all began from a set of furniture he built for his newlywed wife from plywood and fruit crates. Years later, his hand-carved chairs would sit in the White House, he would meet with Hollywood's high profile celebrities for custom projects and he would sell rocking chairs for thousands of dollars. And yet... and yet... he would continue to support the local artists in his community. What I remember most about wandering through his house was the art (and craft) that was on display. And from the stories I heard, there were long evenings of cooking and stories shared with artisans in his and his late-wife, Alfreda's, kitchen as they laughed and explored creative possibilities together.

I could write on and on about Sam. But so many others have written far more eloquently than I ever could. (Jonathan Fairbanks, Larry Harnisch, Janet Eastman) I only wish that something I say could inspire you to dig deeper into this life that a little man named Sam Maloof created for himself. This was a time long before Etsy. This was a time where mass-produced furnishings were introduced. And yet... and yet... his work shined through. He was and will always be a true inspiration to me.

Sam Maloof passed away at the beautiful age of 93 in his beautiful home on Thursday. He called himself a Woodworker. With a legacy like his that I'm sure will continue to live on, I'm certain he will be remembered as much, much more.

1 comment:

Thimbleanna said...

Wow. How interesting. You've written a lovely tribute -- thanks for the links for further reading.