Sam Maloof: 1916-2009
Celebrated woodworker and furniture icon Sam Maloof died Thursday at his home near Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., the Los Angeles Times reported. He was 93.
To this audience, Maloof needs no introduction or historical summary. His signature sculpted woodwork, best illustrated by his famous rocker, is immediately recognizable and many times reproduced. Some would say he invented an entire brand of furniture making with his freehand bandsaw techniques and sculpted parts.
Born in 1916 in Chino, Calif., the son of Lebanese immigrants, Maloof began his woodworking career around 1948 when he gave up his job in graphic design for his first furniture commission. Within ten years, Sam Maloof’s name was known to woodworkers and his collectors around the world, which include Ray Charles, Former President Jimmy Carter, and Former President Ronald Reagan.
In 1985, Maloof received a prestigious Mac Arthur Foundation “Genius” Fellowship, and he has earned even greater admiration among contemporary furniture makers and woodworking enthusiasts who attribute Sam Maloof as their inspiration.
Read the Fine Woodworking interviews
|– NEW: A never-before-published Q&A session with Editor Asa Christiana. Read more
– NEW: Christiana’s remembers Sam Maloof. Read more
– Christiana’s interview with Sam Maloof on furniture design from FWW #179. Read the article
– Fine Woodworking‘s Rick Mastelli profiles Sam Maloof in 1980. Read the full text
– Roland Johnson chronicled his day with Sam Maloof in May 2008. Read more.
Establishing his legacy
The video below is an interview we recorded with Maloof on his 90th birthday, which corresponded with the ground breaking of a massive arts center he built next to his historic home. In the video, Maloof and his second wife, Beverly, talk about the gallery and museum they built to pay tribute to Maloof’s legacy and jumpstart new artists by showing their work.
Maloof also speaks about his beloved first wife Alfreda, who died in 1998. He credits her as the original inspiration for his life’s work. “If it hadn’t been for her love for me and for what I do, this wouldn’t have happened now,” he told Fine Woodworking.
Highlights from a legendary career
– 1916: Born Jan. 24 in Chino, Calif.
– 1948: Marries Alfreda Ward Maloof and began his career as a furniture maker
– 1971: First featured in the Smithsonian American Art Museum collection at Washington, D.C.’s Renwick Gallery
– 1976: His furniture is exhibited in the public collection at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston
– 1984: Received a Fellowship Grant from the National Endowment for the Arts
– 1985: Featured in the 20th Century American Design exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York
– 1988: His furniture is exhibited in the public collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York
– 1992: Received an Honorary Doctor of Fine Arts from Rhode Island School of Design
– 1995: His furniture is added to the White House Collection of Arts and Crafts in Washington, D.C.
– 2001: the Smithsonian American Art Museum creates a special exhibit of his work, including one of his rocking chairs (pictured above), in an exhibit titled “the Furniture of Sam Maloof Retrospective.”
– 2001: Marries Beverly Wingate Maloof following the death of Alfreda
– 2003: Maloof’s hand-built home receives the State of California’s Governor’s Historic Preservation Award and is relocated to its current location as a living museum
-2009: Dies at his home in Alta Loma, Calif.
Post a comment below to leave a thought or personal story about the life and times of Sam Maloof.
Sam Maloof working on one of his signature rocking chairs. The celebrated furniture maker died on May 21 at his home near Los Angeles.
Sam Maloof pioneered his own style of furniture, as seen in this walnut bureau he built in 1949.
This iconic rocking chair by Sam Maloof was photographed while on display at Smithsonian American Art Museum (2001-2002) as part of the exhibit "The Furniture of Sam Maloof Retrospective." It is constructed in his classic style with screwed and plugged joinery and shapley parts sculpted at the bandsaw and with hand and power tools.
What a true inspiration. He touched us all and will be remembered fondly.
This is a very sad day for the woodworking community. We have lost a icon. Sams passion for woodworking was incredible, he never minded taking the time to chat about his passion. I was lucky enough to have met him about 20 years ago. It is a memory I will always cherish.
My prayers go out to Sam and his family.
I was deeply saddened to hear of Sam's passing. If success is measured in part by one's impact on those around him, then Sam was truly successful with his life. Even though Sam was world renowned for his vision and craftsmanship, he approached life without pretense. He referred to himself as simply a woodworker, yet was a shrewd businessman.
I was fortunate enough to meet him a few years ago. I had stopped by the Maloof Foundation to have a book autographed. He was home and took me for a tour of his shop as naturally as if he'd known me for years. It was a high point to discuss a few technical aspects of some chairs under construction. I was also glad to see that his shop was as dusty as mine.
Sam was a great person and his spirit will live on in anyone who views or is influenced by one of his designs. We'll miss you, Sam.
This is truely a sad day for the Maloof family and wood working community. Sam touched so many lives during his life and has been an inspiration to all wood workers. He may be gone in body but his spirit, inspiration and impact he made on the wood working community will live on forever. He is a true icon and his legacy will live on long after we are all gone.
My thoughts and prayers go out to the Maloof family.
Godspeed, Sam. You lived a beautiful life, and touched many, many people with your soft voice and good work. I am blessed that we got to hang together a few times, and I will always miss your warm ways.
My sincere condolences and love to those you left behind.
Your life and your death have become a bright star in the heavens. May you shine forever.
In the 1980's I attended a three day class at Highland Woodworking in Atlanta taught by Mr. Maloof. ("Sam", as he asked us to call him). It was a milestone of my woodworking life. After all those years, it's his philosophy of life that I remember most. He signed a book for me- "Blessings/Peace". That is what I wish for him and his family.
Sam Maloof was the one woodworker that I admired the most. His humility and grace were as much as his trademark as was his work. He had inspired me to take that next step as I grew in my woodworking skills, putting to rest that one can not succeed if they don’t hold degrees of higher education. He was known to put family and friends above his work and enjoyed helping others always ready to explain things. He has to be the greatest woodworking inspiration of the late 20th century.
He will be missed.
Many people will miss him and his manner of passing on how to work with wood has inspired many woodworkers the world over.He will be sorely missed.My best regards to his and family.
KW aka houtslager
My heartfelt condolences to the Maloof family. This truly unique man was a real national treasure, both as an artist/craftsman and a person. He will be sorely missed by those of us who believe that craft should be shared, that there should be no secrets. He inspired me to try woodworking 30 years ago when I saw his work and learned that he was "self taught."
My wife and I had the opportunity to meet him years ago and then again just before his 91st birthday. He was just as enthusiastic at 91 as at 61! Indeed, one Saturday after we took a public tour of the house, I spotted Sam and Beverly taking a walk around the property. I shouted to him to ask a question. That lead to an 85 minute personal tour of the shop, his wood collection and a discussion of his views of the world and art. We shall miss him as if he were a member of our own family!
I accidentaly met Sam Maloof several years ago at the museum in San Francisco. I was bold enough to introduce myself. thereby imposing on his privacy. to the contrary he and his wife were gracious and friendly to a complete stranger. He was willing to spend as much time as necessary for our encounter. As others have said he was indeed a gentleman.
Sam Maloof was one of my woodworking heroes. When I was starting my woodworking career it was often a struggle staying motivated when business was slim or projects wandered off course. Sam was always an inspiration to keep going. Although I hadn't met Sam in those early years I had read about his humble start and how through his love of craft, his love for Alfreda, and his genuine respect for humanity, he kept moving toward the goal of being an artist and provider at the same time. He succeeded beyond his wildest imaginings but never lost sight of what really counts in life. He never lost his humility, his love for those around him and his respect for everyone he met. Sam, you were a truly wonderful human being and you will be missed. Godspeed my friend.
I am sorry to hear of Sam Maloof's passing and happy for him. He lived a very full creative life.Got to meet him once. He had the ability to inspire in a few direct comments. Truly a gentleman.
What a great man and an inspiration to all woodworkers. My condolences to the family... Rest well Sam...
When I heard about this I was truly saddened. I met Sam two times. He was a very humble person. He had a great sense of humor. Sam was a great inspiration to me. I had picture taken with him. It hands in my shop and I always look at when I am in there and always feel inspired. God bless ….
It is truly a sad day that Sam is no longer with us. I was very privileged to be nvited to visit Sam at his home in the mid 80's, as I was just starting in woodworking. His wife Alfreda, the most lovely woman, showed me thru the house before Sam arrived back home, and I told her it was a gallery. Sam showed be his shop and continued working on projects as he explained them to me. He told me that I too could and should make my home a gallery, and I have. He is a great inspiration to me and untold others. His legacy will live on for a long time.
I never had a chance to meet, Sam but watched any programs that were available about him. What a talented and generous master of the wood. What a master to design a chair that can be so wonderfully comfortable to a wide range of people. My son made a copy of his signature chair for me and I love it. When I sit in my chair it I feel the love of the designer and my son's love for making it for me. My prayers go to his family with a thanks for sharing such a wonderful and inspiring man.
I am saddened by the news of Sam's passing. He was a visionary who followed his heart, and in doing so, became an inspiration to thousands of artists and woodworkers. He left behind a legacy of beauty and honesty that many of us strive to achieve.
Thank you Sam.
I was able to meet Sam in Atlanta a few years ago. One of the amazing things about him was when you went to go get his autograph he patiently waited for you to sit with him and talk to him before he signed anything. He genuinely wanted to get to know everyone in that room. He wasn't signing autographs, he was making new friends.
He will be greatly missed by many.
Sam was a wonderful inspiration and mentor to so many woodworkers. I count myself among the many fortunate folks who had a chance to visit Sam in his home. My two visits transformed me. His work, lifestyle, and priorities moved me to pursue woodworking professionally and (more importantly) value the aesthetics of life more than the quantity of one's accumulations.
I ran into Sam years later, after Alfreda, and was delighted to see that he was still the same Sam. He stopped to talk with me, inquire as to my work, share some of his thoughts, and offer me best wishes.
In a recent speaking engagement, Maya Angelou spoke of "Rainbows in clouds". Sam Maloof continues to be a rainbow in my clouds.
Thank You Sam!!!
For twenty five years he was an inspiration to me and his works were often examined and his guidance carefully studied. Aside from a master at his craft he had an eye for lines, light and shadow. He knew how to translate what inspired him into a 3 dimensional form.
It appears that it is universal in opinion that the man regarded himself a lot less than his fame. I would like to grow old in gracefully remaining humble and remaining available to talk to people and to touch them with a spirit of kindness, as did Sam.
Sincere condolences to those who are left behind, family and close friends who feel the emptiness of a loved ones passing.
I was honoured to meet Sam a few years back when visiting from England. I am not a furniture maker and whilst I appreciated his skill and passion for his work my everlasting impression will be Sam's sense of fun, kindness and generosity. Great guy. I am sure he will be sorely missed by all who knew him.
Sam and Alfreda were my mother's neighbors in Cucamonga, CA for many years. Alfreda and my mother were near the same age and were close friends. So, for years I heard a lot of the praises and neighborly exchange of how Sam had developed this wonderful furniture business and how Alfreda had made it her life's work to become Sam's public relations agent and to arrange to get pieces of Sam's work into as many museum's as possible. And she had great success. From Sam's comments about Alfreda it is very evident that the two of them made a very loving, supporting and very successful team. I saw and talked to both of them a few years before Alfreda passed away, when Sam had a speaking engagement in Winsted, CT at the invitation of Ralph Nader. I happy to have the memory of having been able to tell them both directly how much I admired both of their work. Their memories will be with us for many years.
To Sam Maloofs relatives,
I am so very sorry to read of Sam's passing. Like the thousands of other people in this world who only met Sam thorough the vastness of his works or interviews etc. I will miss him. He is my hero because of all he has done for me and woodworkers everywhere! There is a hole in the universe where he was and it can never be filled!!
My sincere and heartfelt condolences to you all.
Raymond Ramar Fleener
My condolences go out to the family. The country has lost a national treasure!! Having admired him for years, I had the great fortune to meet Mr. Maloof this last year at our state fair where he was a guest lecturer. I used the lame excuse of a minor award for a woodworking piece I had entered at the fair to open a conversation. Having recently taken a class on building a rocker modeled after his signature piece and I had some concerns on how certain joints were shaped. I expected only a brief comment in response but instead was treated to a one on one conversation that lasted for more than an hour as he first addressed my question and then expanded the talk using the furniture pieces he had brought with him for his speech to demonstrate techniques and his theories on design in general. It was obvious that physically he was getting frail but his passion and love for his craft was as strong as ever. He will be in my prayers!!
Two of us made a pilgrimage to Aspen, CO to meet Sam and attend his furniture making workshop in the late 1970's. Sam's warmth, good humor, and eagerness to share put us all at ease. His stories illustrated how much he celebrated learning from his mistakes and helped us realize how to achieve mastery through persistence. The sparkle in his eyes, the enthusiasm in the way he expressed himself, and the wonderful life long legacy of building warm-to-the-touch and easy-on-the-eyes furniture is testament to a life well lived and a craft well practiced. The two of us mention Sam almost every time we get together to swap woodworking stories. It's not every day you have a chance to meet a living legend. "Live your life well and persist in your craft." Thanks for sharing your inspiration, Sam....you gave us a good start on a long and eventful journey.
Mr. Maloof was the largest inspiration for me to quit plant management and to scrape out a living as a woodworker. His story, as much as his pieces, inspired me to "Follow my bliss" as Joseph Campbell said.
His style and the quality of his work overwhelmed me. It was the marriage of form and function in a way that I had not seen before then.
I never had to opportunity to meet Sam Maloof. Nevertheless, his pieces speak of an honest, beautiful craftsman.
The world is a better place for Sam's having been here; and is now a little poorer place without him.
I met Sam and Beverly just after they moved into the new House and shop through a friend of mine named Chrisy Grahm from fullerton whose husband was a minister to Sam and AlFfreda. I am a woodworker living in Wrightwood and jumped at the chance. Sam wasnt there when we first got there (he was at the dentist) but his secretary let me go down to his shop to watch the craftsman working, what a treat! Sam came and took us (Chrisy and friends) around the house and the shop. We sat in the kitchen and had coffee just like having a friend over and chatted about his work. He took us to lunch in Claremont to a favorite spot where we chatted more. He is such a "regular guy" even with his Smithsonian exhibits, Rockers in Presidents homes and numerous books and products. It was so nice to talk with this "regular guy" that I made him a Cross to hang. He said that he hung it in his kitchen. What a nice man, Sam Maloof.
It saddens me greatly to hear the news of Sam's passing. What a kind and gental soul. I met Sam and Freda 24 years ago and can't thank them enough for their friendship, marketing knowledge and taking me under their wings. They taught me so much about life, attitude, persistance and most of all: "Please Sit". You will truely be missed, my friend.
I remember well the first time I saw one of Sam’s rocking chairs (I didn’t know who he was at the time). It was just simply an amazing piece of wood work – you just knew it was something very special. I subsequently (1977) had the opportunity to meet and visit with Sam at his first home in the Upland, Ca foothills. I shared with him I was attempting to make a rocker and asked if I could incorporate some of his ideas. He then proceeded to recommended that I try this, try that, and ultimately the chair became one of the most comfortable I have ever made – all based on Sam’s willingness to teach and share his knowledge and skills.
His work and his spirit will be with us for many, many years to come. He remains an inspiration.
Potomac Falls, Va
I took a workshop that Sam gave in Worcester, MA. I'd like to say two things:
*He could run the leg of a chair through the bandsaw while he talked and looked you right in the eye--like 'no look' typing.
*As good as he was as an artist/woodworker, he was even a nicer human being. I have a picture of him hanging over the door to my workshop, and every time I walk in the place and see Sam I think, I hope I'll be that good a man someday.
West Boylston, MA
Each of us leaves this world in only one way. There are a very, very few, however, who leave behind a part of themselves that will remain as long as the world remains. There will always be Sam Maloof through his work, his books, his stories, how he inspired others who will go on to inspire still others. The world of woodworkers has lost a huge part of itself, yet there remains a vast source of knowledge and inspiration within what was lost because of the unique man that was Sam Maloof who shared his love of his trade with so many, past, present, and future and left behind a rich heritage that challenges each of us to do our best and then learn to do better. Thank you for all you shared with me and taught me and those like me. You will be missed.
What an inspiration Sam was to all in the arts, especially woodworking. Thank goodness his knowledge and skill of woodworking will remain with us in the form of his books, video's, and exhibits. Many of us can only hope we will be able to acheive a small part of his vast knowldge of woodworking.
Sam was an inspiration to all who met him. First as a woodworker and then as a man. My wife once asked me which man I admired most in the world. After thinking on this, I answered the it could be none other than Sam Maloof. Attending his seminars and watching and listening to him work was a treat. Having the honor to be treated to a tour of his home and shop by him and Alfreda remains a highlight of my woodworking experience. Sam's humility and humanity is a worthy goal of us all.
About 2 years ago, I watched an interview and tour of Sam's home and shop by David Marks. Although I have only been seriously woodworking for about 3 years, I could tell that Sam was a true craftsman and I kept wandering throughout the whole program just how patient and talented he was. I just wish I had half the knowledge and experience he had.
Of all the people in the woodworking field, it was Sam Maloof That I most admired. In the last 60 years there have been only a handful of true original ideas in the furniture industry.Sam's furniture like the classics of centuries past will assume its rightful place along side the likes of Chippendale, Sheraton, Hepplewhite,Ruhlmann, Greene and Greene etc. Sam was scheduled to give a lecture at the North Bennet St. School The first week of May, An opportunity to meet the man who inspired me to begin a career in furniture. Unfortunately he became ill and was not able to make the trip. I was truly saddened to hear of his passing. I will visit his work at the MFA Boston this weekend and pay my respects.
Like many woodworkers I am very sadden to hear of Sam's passing, paticularly as I just visited with Sam 2 months ago to conduct an interview for our local woodworking guild. Though he was a bit under the weather, both he and Beverly were very gracious with their time. In true form Sam always made time for those willing to learn. It was an experience I will always treasure.
Though the man has gone, his influence will remain inspiring woodworkers for generations to come.
My sincere condolences go out to Beverly and Sam's friends and family. We will all miss you!
I started woodworking in the late '70's, and was totally inspired by the 1980 article in Fine Woodworking. I started my own shop soon after, and have continued since then, with 'Sam's' philosophy in my heart. I was honored to meet with him twice. The first time was in 1988, I went with my wife to the L.A. area, and on a whim called him and asked if I could visit with him. As busy as he was, he still graciously invited me over and talked with me for a couple of hours, let me walk through his house and shop, and take pictures. I was also able to meet his wonderful wife Freda. I will always cherish that time and hope to continue woodworking as he would. He will always continue to inspire me and many others. To his family and friends, as he signed in my book, I wish blessings/peace. Jan
A great loss with this passing of a truly inspirational artist, although he did not consider himself such.
My wife and I had an opportunity to meet Sam and his wife, Beverly, when we visited the foundation several years back with our local Woodworkers club.
The Maloofs were so warm and welcoming, Sam's stories about projects and other artisans, trades he made and art he purchased were a pleasure to listen to. They were both so generous with their time and tales.
It has been said that there are two deaths, the actual death and the one when one's name is no longer spoken, I bet Sam will live, on in this manner, for a very long time!
Several years ago I was given a Maloof walnut settee by a friend who aquired it from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in 1978. A letter from the museum's curator indicated Sam liked to know how his pieces fared over the years. In June 1996 I caalled Sam at his home in Alta Loma. His wife said he was in his shop but insisted he would want to speak to me. He was pleased to get an update on his settee and asked me to send him a photograph. He sent me a brochure of a show featuring his work at a museum in Atlanta during the 1996 Olympics. He and his wife were very gracious.
In 2004, I asked Sam, how much longer was he going to continue working 60+ hours a week. With a great smile, he answered, "This has never been work - I've never worked a day in my life!"
What a wonderful attitude - what a wonderful way to go through life - loving each day - no wonder he made "beautiful works of art," he lived a beautiful life!
Rest in peace, Sam.
Shortly after leaving school at 16 and with only a hope of working with wood for a living I was in a bookshop in Eastbourne UK. I found the book 'Sam Maloof Woodworker' I'd never seen anything like it before.When I was 30 I made a fair attempt at a copy of one of his rockers.That book is one of the most looked at books on my shelf, is a constant inspiration and my biggest regret is that I never met the man whose work it showed. Inspirational is somehow not an adequate enough word.To me he was woodwork - and as he described himself ' a woodworker' is how he will be remembered by us all.
Bye Sam....I am probably one of the few whose relationship with Sam was strictly neighborly. His son Slimen has been one of my finest friends for fourty seven years. Sam and I would bump into one another at dance recitals for his grand-daughter Amy,or quite often at the grocery store.His wife Freda was truly an angel. Although Sam was revered in the community of artists,he will be remembered by me as a regular guy...a very unique, talented,focused,and caring guy.
Men will come and go but it will be a long time coming before we ever see the likes of Sam Maloof.
everyone loves Sam's work but for me it took a long time. I always favor strict 18th century works and felt they were the true masters and I held this belief for many years. Then i actually got to see a piece of Sam's work in person and it all changed for me. I was able to see it for a beauty that no picture could show Sam Was every bit a Master and a very kind and gentle man as well. I only wish I could have worked in his shop. I strive every day i work the wood to be true to the Masters. I think every serious woodworker does.
i framed the fine furniture magazine cover with sam on after he died and its on my workshop wall as inspiration!
i framed the fine furniture magazine cover with sam on after he died and its on my workshop wall as inspiration!
I feel foolish and ashamed, but I only just learned about him. His pieces are absolutely beautiful! I would consider myself lucky and fortunate to have just a tenth of his skill and genius.
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