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Pressroom: Learn the Ways of the Master, Sam Maloof


Master woodworker's legacy lives on at UCR Extension

February 15, 2010

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The distinctive furniture designs and woodworking techniques that were Sam Maloof’s legacy live on today through those who worked closely with the master woodworker for more than 30 years.

Maloof, who died last year at the age of 93, was arguably America’s number one wood craftsman.  His distinctive designs blended traditional and modern styles in functional furniture. Fans of his signature piece, the rocking chair, include former Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and soul man Ray Charles.  His work is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He was the first craftsman to receive a MacArthur Foundation scholarship.
Despite his passing, Maloof’s work still lives.

Mike Johnson and Larry White, who both worked with Maloof for decades, are offering a one-day workshop through UCR Extension called “A Day in the Studio of Sam Maloof, Master Woodworker” from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 20, and again on May 22.

The course will be conducted in Maloof’s workshop next to the home that Maloof began building in 1953 and gradually added to over the years.  The historic residence is now a museum and headquarters of the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts.

Johnson graduated from Long Beach State University in 1980 with a degree in industrial arts. But instead of going into teaching like most of his classmates, Johnson accepted an offer from Maloof to come work for him.

Over the past 30 years, Johnson shaped, sanded and finished pieces that Maloof designed and assembled.  In more recent years, Johnson and some other employees actually built the furniture to Maloof’s specifications.

“Not only was Sam a gifted designer, he was a fine craftsman as well,” Johnson said.

Maloof started producing his hand-crafted pieces in the ‘40s and ‘50s when most furniture was mass produced by machines. His classic designs did not clash with the more modern styles that were popular then.

“People could use a single piece in their home regardless of their décor,” Johnson said.

Maloof’s employees – he didn’t have a formal apprenticeship program – learned by watching and doing. Johnson heard Maloof say once that he preferred hiring someone with no previous experience so he could train him in his own methods.

“He could tell within a short time if a person would work out. It was a matter of temperament more than skill. A lot of what we do requires a considerable amount of patience, staying power, a lot of sanding. Some people don’t have the temperament.”

The one-day workshop will include an overview of the furniture-making process from rough assembly to finished product. Students will have the opportunity to tour Maloof’s workshop, residence and wood storage facility.

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General Campus Information

University of California, Riverside
900 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92521
Tel: (951) 827-1012

Contact Information

UC Riverside Extension Center
1200 University Ave.
Riverside, CA 92507-4596

UCR Extension Center

Tel: Work(951) 827-4105 or Toll-Free(800) 442-4990 toll-free
Fax: Fax(951) 827-7273
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