Sunday, January 3, 2010
A Sam Maloof Rocking Chair
I recently finished making a rocking chair of your design and wanted to tell you about it.
It must be over ten years ago I visited the Boston Museum of Fine Art and sat in one of your chairs. The museum curators had commissioned contemporary wood craftsmen to make seating for the public so that visitors could sit in art while they looked at it. I spent a lot of time looking at your chair. It made a lasting impression.
Earlier this year I visited the showroom of an Amish father-son furniture making business with friends, one of whom was looking for chairs to go with a dining table I had made. The chairs they offered were nice, a Windsor derivative, and an order was placed. I got to thinking I would like to make a chair and yours came to mind. I have made many things of wood but never a chair, let alone one as challenging as your rocker, so thought it would be best to get some help.
At first I sought books as I usually do. I read your book, Sam Maloof Woodworker and Jeremy Adamson's The Furniture of Sam Maloof. OK, I admit I didn't read all of it but I did look at all the pictures. Poured over them as a matter of fact. I dug up my December 1980 issue of Fine Woodworking and studied the feature article you wrote. I watched a long video of you doing a demonstration. I think you were 90 at the time.
An internet search turned up the help I needed from Charles Brock who offered full sized plans of a "Maloof Inspired Rocker" with instructions included. Charles teaches workshops on his methods for making this chair and has also recently made a companion video. I think some might begrudge another making a living from their design but I think he would have your blessing. He is enthusiastic and genuinely interested in helping others be successful.
I thought about you a lot as I made this chair. My favorite quote of yours is when you were asked, "Of all the furniture you have made what is your favorite piece?" You answered, "The one I'm working on. It's always the one I'm working on." This captures for me a love of the craft, of the process, of how to live one's life. It's not about what you have done. It's about what you are doing.
There are many who have excelled in their area of interest as you did. They are gifted with a unique vision of their work and the determination and perseverance to make it a reality. But what set you apart from others was your willingness to share what you know, what you learned. In countless articles, interviews, and demonstrations you gave the details as if to say, "Here, you try it."
In the past the tricks of the trades were reserved for those sworn to secrecy and willing to endure years of servitude. Today sharing knowledge is often seen as weakening one's advantage in the marketplace. I think your life demonstrates the fallacy in this approach. Although monetary gain was not your motivation, lo and behold, it eventually came your way. And there is no way to measure the friendships and goodwill this way of life creates. More than learning to make a chair I want to learn this from you. Give freely, hold nothing back. Give to all without fear.
It goes without saying that this chair is not as refined as you and your assistants would make. The lines don't flow as smoothly; I should have used a different piece of wood here; a glue line shows a little bit there. But it is a nice chair that is a pleasure to sit in. And I hope it shows that I cared about its making. I tried my best to make something beautiful.
Sam Maloof died at age 93 on May 23, 2009. Renowned for his tireless work ethic he was still putting in 8 hour days a few weeks before he died. He is one of the most influential woodworkers of our time. The home he built in San Alto, CA along with its gardens and extensive art collection is now The Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts and is open to the public.
Sam's furniture will continue to be made available by the three craftsmen who have worked for him for many years. Their website: http://www.sam-maloof.com
The wood for this chair is from two walnut trees that I harvested using a chainsaw mill. It is nice to be able to picture these trees, to follow the path from tree to chair.
I rarely make something twice and don't think this will be an exception despite ideas and knowing more than when I began. The amount of handwork involved took its toll on my hands. I need to rest them. The opposable thumb thing isn't working as well and if I'm not careful I might have to move down the food chain.