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Sam Maloof - 36 Views of a Master Woodworker
By Fred Setterberg

Book Review by J. Norman Reid

Sam Maloof - 36 Views of a Master Woodworker is the biography of an incredible man. But what, exactly, was he? An artist? Certainly his works in wood qualify as art and for decades he was a central figure in the California art community. A sculptor? Again, his furniture revealed his personal vision for sculpted forms in his chosen medium. But, no, Sam Maloof considered himself to be neither of these. He was, in his own words, "a woodworker."

What a woodworker! And what a special man! This volume of brief essays, illustrated throughout with photos of Sam, his friends, his now historic home, his workshop, gives us as well-rounded a view of Sam Maloof as is likely for those of us who never had the chance to know him in person.

Sam Maloof was many things. He was, of course, a master woodworker whose iconic creations now populate numerous museums, as well as many homes, around the nation. As a worker in wood, he was also a perfectionist. In fact, he was obsessed with perfection, often making minor adjustments by sanding to correct transitions that were imperceptible to all but his own eyes.

Sam was a friend to many, and hosted literally thousands of visitors to his home, spending time sharing his collections and his views with friends, acquaintances and strangers alike.

He was a collector of art, both from the local art scene and further abroad. His collections were eclectic and included paintings, pottery, textiles, silk screens and wooden objects. He bought what he liked, often from promising but as-yet unknown artists, or traded his furniture for pieces he admired. His collections, which overburdened his home, are now worth millions.

Sam Maloof was an inspiration to others. One of his principles was that you must give in order to receive, and this was how his life was lived. He gave of himself freely, too freely sometimes, where his productivity in the woodshop was concerned. His first wife Alfreda often had to intervene with visitors to remind Sam that it was time to get back to work.

He was a centerpiece in the California art community, encouraging other artists, promoting and talking art constantly with his friends, helping to organize exhibits. This book is replete with personal stories about Sam, from his early years throughout his long career, his first wife and partner Alfreda, his second wife Beverly, the history of the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation, the move of his home and workshop out of the path of a freeway, and his wood collection. The stories are told by friends, fellow artists, family members, neighbors, and even a former president.

Sam Maloof was not a perfect man. No one is. But he was nonetheless special and in a great many ways a worthy role model, not just for woodworking but for the business of living a life well spent. The stories in this book shape a portrait of the whole man that is balanced, honest and complete.

Any woodworker or reader with an interest in art will find this book a fascinating biography of a special man: an artist, certainly, a sculptor, yes, and–above all–a master woodworker.

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Sam Maloof - 36 Views of a Master Woodworker

J. Norman Reid is a woodworker, writer, and woodworking instructor living in the Blue Ridge Mountains with his wife, a woodshop full of power and hand tools and four cats who think they are cabinetmaker's assistants. He is the author of Choosing and Using Handplanes . He can be reached by email at nreid@fcc.net .

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