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Sam: More than a woodworker

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Sam Maloof died last week at the age of 93. Since you have an interest in woodworking, you'll likely read many, many tributes to Sam Maloof's work over the next several weeks. With that in mind, you don't need another from me. Suffice to say that I thought he was the best woodworker modern times has produced (perhaps even beyond modern times). His influence and designs will last forever. A day will come – not long from now, I predict – when his name will be synonymous with his style. It's probably already happening.

Today we think of Stickley furniture, or Greene and Greene furniture. Sheraton, Hepplewhite and Chippendale are all well-known furniture styles. But it's important to realize that before they were the names of furniture, they were the names of men. Men who had lives. Men who had first names. We don't know much about any of those men other than their works; even Stickley, who lived through the middle of the 20th century, is remembered today more as an adjective attached to the furniture that bears his last name, and not as Gustav Stickley himself.

That's not surprising. There was no active woodworking media then. Books, yes, and Stickley's own "The Craftsman" magazine were published, but for the most part publications then covered woodworking, not woodworkers. Things are different today. Woodworking publications have been around for decades, and have allowed us to meet and get to know woodworkers like never before. The same goes for television, recorded video and, of course, the Internet.

My wife and I had the pleasure to spend a weekend with Sam and his wife Beverly a few summers ago. We shared some time out in his shop on a Sunday morning for an hour or so, just the two of us, working together on one of his rockers. It's a moment I'll treasure forever, but the most prominent memory I came away with was not related to woodworking at all, but rather of the man himself. Everything I had read about his kindness, generosity, humility and good will was absolutely true, and I experienced that first-hand.

Sam Maloof was one of the most talented woodworkers to ever grace the world, and that will never be forgotten. His body of work and the legacy of his style will see to that all on its own without help from me or anyone else. But I think it's important for those of us who knew him, either through personal experience or through the many things that have been published or recorded about him, to keep that memory, that picture of Sam alive. Because as incredible as his talent was – and make no mistake, it was incredible – that talent pales when compared to the person he was. And it's that person who should always be remembered.

Hopefully, years from now when seeing furniture made in his style, we won't look at it as a Maloof-style piece. For me, I'll look at that furniture and think, yeah, Sam made that.

Till next time,


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