Samuel Solomon Maloof

Birth date: 01-23-1916
Date of death: 05-21-2009
Country of origin: United States United States
Primary Occupation: Woodworker
Secondary Occupation: Designer
Spouse(s): Alfreda Louise Ward (1948–1998;her death), Beverly Wingate Maloof (2001–2009;his death)

Early Life

Sam was born in Chino, California, to the east of Los Angeles. Chino was a farming community where market gardens and citrus groves flourished. Sam's father, Slimen Nasif Nadir Maloof, and mother, Anisse, had arrived in the US from Lebanon, then a region of the Ottoman Empire, in 1905. The family entered through Ellis Island, New York, and crossed the country to California, where Nasif's sister, Holla, had a store in Santa Barbara. Nasif peddled vegetables and dry goods from a horse-drawn carriage; Anisse sold her handmade lace, embroidered linens and crochet work from it. Sam's love of craftsmanship drew from his early admiration of his mother's skills, and he took much pride in his Lebanese heritage and extended family.

He learned to speak Spanish from a Mexican housekeeper and Arabic from his parents even before he knew English. The hard times of the Depression were managed with 17 family members living in a crowded home. Everyone shared space and tasks - tending a market garden and earning small income with part-time jobs. Sam was a natural "improver". Even as a child he was able to help shape, fix or make whatever family and friends needed.1

Later Life

During the 1930s, while Sam was in high school, his natural abilities as a calligrapher, cartoonist and graphic artist became known. His "Welcome to Chino" sign stood at the entrance to the town, and he earned cash from hand-lettering store windows and advertising signs on brick buildings. On leaving school, he did graphic work for the engine air filters produced by the Vortox Manufacturing Company, took night classes in the Frank Wiggins Trade School and gained further experience by work with the industrial designer Harold E Graham.

Maloof was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1941, he was quickly promoted from Private to Master Sergeant while doing display work in Alaska. He was one of 35,000 WW II troops sent to protect Alaska from the Japanese, an engagement the Allies expected to be a "bloodbath." In actuality, the Japanese forces had left Kiska before the Allies arrived. Maloof was one of the few soldiers who had a camera, and while not trained as a photographer, Maloof took 1,800 photographs which were "alive and clear and informative".
Same completed his service in 1945 after which he returned to his familiar home area, Southern California.2

In 1948 Sam met and married Alfreda Ward. Sam could no longer give Sheets the undivided attention that studio work demanded. So, at the age of 34, Sam struck out on his own, at first making simple furniture from fir plywood that he salvaged from construction forms. He built a workshop outfitted with rudimentary tools in a garage of his home in Ontario, California. His first commission proved to be a financial disaster, since the cost of materials devoured his commission - a mistake that he did not make again.1


After his exquisitely crafted furniture, including stereo cabinets and cork-top coffee tables, appeared in Better Homes and Gardens magazine and the Los Angeles Times newspaper, Maloof found that his unique designs were in great demand. Despite the waiting lists that developed for his pieces, his dedication to handcrafting each item meant that his output was small; no more than 100 pieces were produced annually. Though his pieces were initially prized for their functionality, they later became highly collectible for their beauty and attention to detail. In 1985 he received a MacArthur Foundation fellowship (a “genius grant”), becoming the first craftsman to be so honored. Maloof transformed his once-humble bungalow home sited in a lemon grove into a 22-room showcase that featured a hand-carved spiral staircase, door latches in the shape of golf clubs, and a tree-house loft; the domicile was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.3

Image Gallery

Artist: Sam Maloof

Medium: ziricote and ebony
Dimensions: 29 3/4 x 22 3/4 x 22 1/8 in. (75.5 x 57.8 x 56.5 cm)

Credit Line: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Alfreda and Sam Maloof in honor of Michael W. Monroe, curator-in-charge, Renwick Gallery (1986-1995)
Artist: Sam Maloof

Medium: Brazilian rosewood and leather
Dimensions: 38 x 21 1/2 x 21 in. (96.5 x 54.6 x 53.3 cm)

Credit Line: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Blanche Pope in memory of Edker Pope
Artist: Sam Maloof

Medium: fiddleback maple
Dimensions: 21 3/4 x 23 5/8 in. (55.2 x 60.0 cm) diam.

Credit Line: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Sam and Alfreda Maloof

Artist: Sam Maloof

Medium: walnut
Dimensions: 44 3/4 x 45 3/4 x 26 3/4 in. (113.7 x 116.2 x 67.9 cm)

Credit Line: Smithsonian American Art Museum, Gift of Roger and Frances Kennedy

Artist: Sam Maloof

Settee, 1969. Walnut and leather, Oakland Museum

Source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/rocor/14112384824


Sam Maloof wrote:
I do not feel that it is possible to make a working drawing with all the intricate and fine details that go into a chair or stool, particularly. Many times I do not know how a certain area is to be done until I start working with a chisel, rasp, or whatever tool is needed for that particular job.


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Further Reading

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External Links

Sam Maloof, Woodworker Incorporated

Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts

Sam Maloof: 1916-2009 in Fine Woodworking

In Memoriam: Sam Maloof (1916-2009), Eye Level

Oral history interview with Sam Maloof, 2002 Jan. 10-11


1 “Sam Maloof, Furniture Craftsman, Dies at 93 - Obituary (Obit) - NYTimes.com.” N.p., n.d. Web. 5 Aug. 2015.
2 Wikipedia contributors. "Sam Maloof." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 9 May. 2018. Web. 10 Jun. 2018.
3 “Sam Maloof | American Woodworker.” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Sam-Maloof. Accessed 24 Jan. 2019.


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