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.

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