Sam Maloof (January 24, 1916 – May 21, 2009) was a furniture designer and woodworker. He was born Samuel Solomon Maloof, a member of the large Maalouf family, in Chino, California, to Lebanese immigrants. He attended high school first at Chaffey High School in Ontario, California, where he took his first woodworking class and was recognized by his art teacher as having extraordinary skill. Later he attended Chino High School. Shortly after completing high school, he began working in the art department of the Vortox Manufacturing Company in Claremont, California. He was drafted into the United States Army on October 11, 1941. After serving in the Pacific theater and then transferring to a post in Alaska, Maloof left the army in 1945 to return to Southern California.
Maloof’s work is in the collections of several major American museums, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. In 1985 he was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” grant. Presidents Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan have both owned Maloof rockers. He is featured in the 2007 PBS series “Craft in America: Memory, Landscape, Community”, produced by Carol Sauvion.
He was described by the Smithsonian Institution as “America’s most renowned contemporary furniture craftsman” and People magazine dubbed him “The Hemingway of Hardwood.” But his business card always said “woodworker.” “I like the word,” he told a Los Angeles Times reporter, his eyes brightening behind large, owl-eyed glass frames. “It’s an honest word.”
In 1985 Mr. Maloof became the first craftsman to receive a MacArthur fellowship; and despite such recognition, he declined to identify himself as an artist. His autobiography was titled Sam Maloof: Woodworker.