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Huntington Highlight: Masterful Furnishings on Display by Sam Maloof and Friends

“The House that Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley, 1945-1985,” is a new exhibition at the Huntington celebrating artful pieces used for the everyday or in some cases, presidential gifts.

I never realized the beauty of the decorative arts until I had the opportunity to preview the handmade craftsmanship of Sam Maloof at the new exhibit, “The House That Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley, 1945-1985.”

The exhibit, which opened Saturday, showcases 35 of Maloof’s pieces alongside 81 pieces by Maloof’s colleagues and friends including painter Millard Sheets, sculptor Betty Davenport Ford and wood turner Bob Stockdale.

Maloof’s American studio furniture integrated art with daily life. “He was making something for a specific individual and would become a friend with them through the creation process,” said the exhibit’s curator, Harold “Hal” B. Nelson. “Each object was about the embodiment of that relationship.”

Nelson maintains that all art in the exhibit was fueled by Maloof’s own credo: “I want to be able to work a piece of wood into an object that contributes something beautiful and useful to everyday life. And I want to do this for an individual that I can come to know as a friend.” 

Maloof, whose work has been given to American presidents Ronald Regan, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, is recognized for his rich wooden chairs, cradles and tables. Each object brings beauty to everyday life. 

As the exhibit states, Maloof built the Alta Loma house he shared with his wife Alfreda from the ground up, from the door handles to the tables and chairs. While the exhibit isn’t a recreation of their mid-1950s house, Nelson’s layout suggests intimate spaces and creates relationships between pieces.

One of the exhibit’s standout pieces is a free-standing walnut cradle Maloof built in 1992. The cradle, which could also serve as an abstract sculpture, became one of Maloof’s most-requested pieces during his late years. Nelson shared that Maloof would always move a cradle to the top of his priority list because, “a baby waits for no one.”

Another piece that illustrates Maloof's passion is the rocking chair he built for his wife in 1982. The walnut rocker is one of Maloof's signature and most popular pieces. 

The exhibit, which runs through Jan. 30, is part of the Getty-sponsored "Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA, 1945-1980." The collaboration brings together work from more than 60 institutions across Southern California.

"This is the story of art in Southern California," said Nelson. "Our story will become fully integrated in the story of art during this period." 

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