Maloof rocker, courtesy of Wikipedia
As I am sure you know, our community is marking the passing of Sam Maloof. We are lesser for the loss of this iconic woodworker. A gifted furniture maker, and teacher, Maloof was also an inspiration for the integrity of his work, and his life.
I’ll leave in depth reports and the inevitable retrospectives for those better acquainted with Maloof’s life and work. Personally, I was always struck by the very humble way he approached his life’s work. I think there’s a tendency for those who have achieved a certain level of accomplishment to lose perspective of the overall importance of their work. I find entertainers particular guilty of this but it can happen to anyone including furniture makers and woodworking authors.
Maloof referred to himself only as a “woodworker”. This humble title concealed the truth of who Maloof was, what he did, and what we must do going forward without him. Basket weavers, pen turners and cabinetmakers are all woodworkers. So are trim carpenters, and Welsh stick-chair makers. I don’t see any of these pursuits as particularly similar. Associating ourselves solely in terms of the material we use is sort of silly don’t you think? It doesn’t speak to our goals and aspirations.
I don’t think we admire Maloof chiefly for the way he operated his band saw or his prowess cutting mortises. Maloof was a furniture artist whose medium was wood. He clearly expressed his esthetic, while creating usable functional furniture forms. I think the nexus between fine art and functionality is very difficult to pull off. Sam Maloof’s life and work will continue to offer us something to shoot for.
In case you didn’t know, perhaps now is a good time to mention. Popular Woodworking is hosting a conference near Chicago that will focus on design. I highly recommend you attend. There are lots of places to learn about how to sharpen your tools. And I’m not disparaging the usefulness of the other WiA, which will be held outside Philly. I just think as “woodworkers” we often focus on the process or the material and lose sight of the art work that requires perhaps more of our attention.