Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sam Maloof - more than a rocker



I received a call the other day.
It was a woodworking compadre who nonchalantly said,
“Well we lost one of our greats”……I had to ask who.

Over the past months, I’ve been cleaning up loose ends, roaming happily lost in my own direction, and checking in on the internet woodworking community only on occasion.

But when the who was answered, I was sad.

I clip articles of great performance and place them in my favorite books. I went to my copy of Sam Maloof – Woodworker, (first edition 1983) and was not disappointed. Having worn out his VHS tape “Sam Maloof, Woodworking Profile” like an old 45, Sam Maloof is one of my favorite woodworker’s. I can still picture him following that one hard line around an entire chair. But whose performance earned the right to be in my Sam Maloof book? More on that later.

It’s Sam’s book and it’s his day.

My woodworking foundation is firmly in furniture manufacturing. While working at Broyhill on the industry’s shop floor, Gigi and I also worked the craft scene at the tail end of the movement. This is the connection for me to Sam Maloof. I had the best of both worlds, first hand exposure to furniture designed for the masses and the study of Maloof’s approach to pieces designed for limited-production. To me, I saw no difference in the production at Broyhill Furniture Industries and lets call it, Sam Maloof Industries. The only variable between the two was what percentage came off the machine. The higher the production volume required, the higher the machine percentage needed. Finding the design balance between machine and handwork was Maloof’s genius.

Sam Maloof, was instrumental in exhibiting the production of fine wood craft. Recently, I received a note from Jon Binzen a writer of all things furniture. He commented on the Castle and Kopf interviews by saying, “The one with Silas brought out his personality remarkably well….” the reason for this comfort level between Silas and myself, has much to do with the craft movement. Maloof having been a part of the California Design exhibitions, masterfully showed studio furniture next to production furniture. Remarkably, Maloof and Eames showed in the same California Design Exhibits. Maloof showed in the yearly CD exhibits from CD 1 in 1954 to CD’75. Rhinebeck was the major east coast Craft Show and Silas Kopf was a player in those exhibits. The scene peeked mid to late 70’s, and as mentioned previous, Gigi and I hit the tail end, but the attitude, the lifestyle, the vibe is evident in those who participated. The Craft Show era is over and the closest example to those exhibits today is the ICFF, but you have to have been aware of what was showed in the CD exhibits and Rhinebeck to appreciate this vestige of Maloof.

Unfortunately, it seems everybody just stops at a Maloof rocking chair and feels the inspiration. Sam Maloof is much more than just a rocker. He provided the vision of limited production and finding optimal furniture designs to manufacture. For me, through self study I came to profit margin terms and the manufacturing understanding of what can be built within the confines of a 40 - 48" X 15 - 21 X 30 - 34 rectangle, that’s what I learned from Sam Maloof. That’s his genius, I just wish somewhere we could find a quote where he mentioned out loud, that he had to meet a production quota. If he did, I believe American woodworking would have a different look today.

So just who is it that resides in my Maloof book. One was a 1992 article from the New York Times Sports section on Vitaly Shcherbo. My expectations are very high, so it seems logical now that Shcherbo, who won 6 Olympic Gymnastic Titles at the Barcelona games, was folded neatly in Sam’s text. Life is all about performance.

The other article was from a 1983 issue of Time magazine. Under “Milestones”, it was an obit piece on the death of R. Buckminster Fuller.

I only had to look to my right and see my Spaceship Earth Dymaxion Globe.

Here’s to Sam Maloof and thank you!!!!!!!


Listen to NPR Maloof link sent to me from my Design Professor of 30 years ago, Mr John Belt.

6 comments:

David Pruett said...

Neil –

“Sam Maloof is much more than just a rocker.”

Bless your heart! Only you could have written such a touching eulogy for a great designer and woodworker. I was touched by a number of your comments and feel we all have a lot to learn from your insight.

You have done much to help educate the Internet woodworking community. I find it so interesting how your library becomes a repository for reference and I had to smile when I read “I clip articles of great performance and place them in my favorite books. I went to my copy of Sam Maloof – Woodworker, (first edition 1983) and was not disappointed.”

I also found the following comments very interesting:

“This is the connection for me to Sam Maloof. I had the best of both worlds, first hand exposure to furniture designed for the masses and the study of Maloof’s approach to pieces designed for limited-production.”

“Finding the design balance between machine and handwork was Maloof’s genius.”

“Sam Maloof, was instrumental in exhibiting the production of fine wood craft.”

Neil, as I look back on your blog and the direction you have taken my biggest sadness is to realize that Sam Mallof would have been the subject of a great interview at the other end of The Furnitology microphone!

I think you summed it up best with your closing paragraph. “Unfortunately, it seems everybody just stops at a Maloof rocking chair and feels the inspiration. Sam Maloof is much more than just a rocker. He provided the vision of limited production and finding optimal furniture designs to manufacture. For me, through self study I came to profit margin terms and the manufacturing understanding of what can be built within the confines of a 40 - 48" X 15 - 21 X 30 - 34 rectangle, that’s what I learned from Sam Maloof. That’s his genius, I just wish somewhere we could find a quote where he mentioned out loud, that he had to meet a production quota. If he did, I believe American woodworking would have a different look today.”

Your final statement is a standard we all should bring to bear in all aspects of our lives, including the shop!

“Life is all about performance.”

Anonymous said...

I just wish somewhere we could find a quote where he mentioned out loud, that he had to meet a production quota. If he did, I believe American woodworking would have a different look today.I think he says it in his first book. He certainly says it in an interview with Wharton Esherick in Craft Horizons in 1966. He talked a lot about not having time to let the wood speak to him (I guess contrasting himself with Nakashima) and having a very direct relationship with the wood. He also mentions it in his Woodworking Channel videos when talking about using the rasp and cutting on the push and pull strokes, not just the push.

He said you need to produce to survive and most woodworkers take too much time fussing over their pieces to make a living. Of course, you have to have the orders to feel that urgency but he had the orders and one of the most distinctive things about Sam was his ability to produce a heavily hand-shaped piece in a short period of time. He worked fast and accurately.

I'll try to dig up that quote when I have some time.

Neil....a Furnitologist said...

I appreciate the comments above. It's important to me that indivdiuals post substance and not just a cursory thought.

Maloof is very important to the craft of woodworking.

Everybody stops way to short and do not truly understand his impact.

Thank you.........Neil

Vic Hubbard said...

Neil,

Very well thought out eulogy to the one man that really got me interested in furniture in the first place. I was one who saw first the rocker and fell in love with the aesthetic of what furniture can be. It was only later that I became aware of his other pieces and how all his pieces were designed in a manner that let the life in the wood speak through him. He was an extremely humble and giving man, always ready to teach others this joint or that particular alignment of pieces. He liked the sapwood in walnut because that is the true character of the wood and rather than go against it, use it in the most beautiful(I've always loved the way he says beautiful) configuration. He railed against the idea that he was an artist, and always insisted he was "just a woodworker". What a woodworker!

Vic

Neil....a Furnitologist said...

Vic.......great to hear from you.

Neil

Kosta said...

wow he was a true ledgend

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