Starting in 1969, Sam Maloof was commissioned by the L.A. chapter of the Young Presidents' Organization to craft rocking chairs for retiring members of the under-fifty business organization.
The Art and Craft of Sam Maloof
Throughout his sixty years as a woodworker, Sam Maloof remained remarkably consistent. Never formally trained, Maloof’s designs emerged from an organic process of instinct and craftsmanship; he hand-sketched and hand-worked each of his designs, adjusting elements by eye, not measurements, to make each piece unique. Further, his works feature rich, tactile surfaces, achieved by applying a mixture of linseed oil, tung oil, and beeswax to the wood, which was then polished with steel wool to create a high sheen, his signature finish. This labor-intensive method imbued his furniture with warmth and character. Despite a long wait-list for his pieces, Maloof’s output remained small averaging only eighty pieces a year and only rushing orders for baby cradles.
Maloof’s most famous form is without question his rocking chair.
Maloof’s most famous form is without question his rocking chair, the first of which he created in 1958. He reinvented this American classic by identifying the inherent problem of the form and reworking it; most standard rockers have a grain of sawn wood that weakens the ray of the chair while Maloof’s rockers feature a sturdy construction composed of seven layers of laminated wood. Not only are his rocking chairs structurally sound, but with graceful, elongated runners, simplicity of form and a refined finish, they have a distinct sculptural quality and are a true melding of art and craft.
Birth of the Modern
Peter Loughrey was a talented pioneer motivated by a restless enthusiasm, crucially driven by the willingness to communicate, to share and to discover. An intuitive feel for the burgeoning interest in post-war design led Peter to establish the nascent LA Modern Auctions in 1992 — soon to evolve into the very first dedicated auction platform of its type. Although the initial turnover those first years was modest, LAMA’s impact and resonance was to spearhead a new era of collecting. With these auctions Peter, together with his wife and co-director Shannon, swiftly developed an interactive platform for what was evolving as an increasingly globalised tide of enthusiasts, dealers, curators and collectors. His auctions became a raison d’être, justification to what many of us were at the time tentatively yet willingly exploring. Here, in these auctions, post-war design was spot-lit centre stage, and celebrated as a movement in its own right.
If these initial auctions consolidated and gave focus to the market, then they also gave us an identity — achieved very simply through the semantics of the company that celebrated ‘modern’. A simple and obvious choice, but so influential and less cumbersome than the prevailing options of "twentieth century" or "post-war." Auctions at that time were traditionally associated with antiques, and there was a general disinterest within the trade to consider anything less than seventy years old as having any cultural or collectible value. Although this market had been described as being "modern" for some years already in the US, the word had not yet been internationalised beyond American shores to represent a collecting movement.
LAMA was established at exactly the right time. The zeitgeist was perfect, and helped guide many of us. Around this time I returned from the US and was shortly set to curate my first design auctions for Christie’s in London. Peter’s catalogues during this explorative period were invaluable. Perhaps difficult to understand now, in our era of immediate communication, but the fully illustrated printed LAMA catalogues were the equivalent of a fanzine that would be passed around, photocopied and then memorised. Nowhere else at the time was contained the detailed information that could allow us, many thousands of miles away in London, to distinguish between an early or a late example of, say, an Eames LCW, or to be exposed to the furniture of Schindler or Neutra. And crucially, there were prices. The prices meant that the market was real. And every so often there would be something in Peter’s sales — a trophy lying in wait for the knowledgeable — that would yield a revolutionary price, setting new records and issuing concentric ripples that gave us the confidence to recognise that our passion for this material was no daydream.
Peter had the fortune to discover his calling, and the certainty to pursue it, his delight for discovery underpinned by curatorial seriousness. Together with Shannon, LAMA established a keystone in the foundations of the modern market, flag-bearers of international design and with a global message. Today LAMA co-anchors a dedicated and influential network of US auction sites, all specialised graduates of that early era of modern discovery. A shared mission is always the most pleasurable, so thank you Peter, for helping guide the way.
Curator and advisor
Andrews Art Advisory
Born in 1916 to Lebanese immigrant parents, Sam Maloof spent his childhood tinkering and making wood objects like spoons and dollhouses for his family. As an adult, Maloof worked in the graphic design department of the Vortox Manufacturing Company and in 1941 he was drafted into the U.S. Army where he constructed engineering drawings for the war effort. After the war, Maloof moved to California where he taught himself how to woodwork while building furniture for his first home. News of his beautiful and functional designs spread, and he was soon swamped with commissions for everything from cradles to rockers.
Maloof was never formally trained and he disliked the term artist, instead preferring to be known first and foremost as a craftsman. Maloof purposefully left the joinery of his furniture visible, drawing attention to the artistry of his mortise and tenon joints and flawless dovetails. Working with traditional woods like mahogany, pine, and oak, Maloof expertly transformed the surface of his forms with a highly burnished, tactile sheen. A true master of wood, Maloof was the first craftsman to receive both the coveted Louis Comfort Tiffany Grant and the MacArthur Genius Grant. In 2001, Sam Maloof was the subject of a major retrospective at the Renwick Gallery of American Art, the exhibition focusing on the precise methods of craftsmanship within his designs. Maloof passed away in 2009. Renowned for his contribution to the American Craft movement, his work is included in many noteworthy collections including the Arts and Crafts collection at the White House, Washington D.C. as well as and in the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Auction Results Sam Maloof