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Major exhibition on Sam Maloof and his circle of artist friends on view at the Huntington Library
Sam Maloof’s Occasional “String” Chair (1950) and Coffee Table (1950) with Gertrud and Otto Natzler’s Large Shallow Bowl (1958). Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

SAN MARINO, CA.- The furniture of midcentury craftsman Sam Maloof (1916–2009) and the art made by 35 members of his circle of friends will be explored in a groundbreaking exhibition this fall at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. Maloof’s work has been given to American presidents, collected by celebrities, and admired by art connoisseurs far and wide. It also has been the subject of major exhibitions across the country, but this is the first to examine closely Maloof’s contribution to the development of art in Southern California. “The House That Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley, 1945–1985” will be presented in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery from Sept. 24, 2011, through Jan. 30, 2012.

The exhibition is part of “Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945–1980,” an unprecedented collaboration initiated by the Getty that brings together more than 60 cultural institutions from across Southern California for six months, beginning in October 2011, to tell the story of the birth of the L.A. art scene.

With the home that Maloof and his wife Alfreda created for themselves in the mid-1950s in Alta Loma, Calif., as its central metaphor, “The House That Sam Built” and accompanying catalog of the same title will shed new light on the rich network of influences and exchanges that developed among artists and artisans living near the college town of Claremont in the Pomona Valley, a region of Los Angeles County about 30 miles from downtown Los Angeles. Covering a dynamic period in American art, the exhibition spans the development of Maloof’s work from his earliest explorations of handcrafted furniture in the 1950s to 1985, the year he received the “Genius Grant” from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.

“The House That Sam Built” gathers together 116 works from private and public collections, showcasing 35 important Maloof pieces in a display integrated with 81 works by his friends and colleagues who worked in other media. Maloof’s circle included painters Karl Benjamin, Phil Dike, and Millard Sheets; sculptors Betty Davenport Ford, Albert Stewart, and John Svenson; ceramists Harrison McIntosh and Otto and Gertrud Natzler; enamelists Jean and Arthur Ames; wood turner Bob Stocksdale; and fiber artist Kay Sekimachi. The installation also will include two rare watercolors that Maloof made early in his career.

“We believe strongly in the importance of recording the history of Southern California in all its rich complexity and feel The Huntington can play a key role in documenting that history as an essential component of our nation’s story,” said Steven S. Koblik, president of The Huntington. “And we couldn’t be more proud of this project, born of rigorous new scholarship focused on an under-researched topic—an extraordinary postwar community of artists who flourished around the small college town of Claremont. This ambitious endeavor, anchored by the popularity of the legendary Sam Maloof, will undoubtedly inspire people in more ways than we can imagine.”

The scope and subject of the exhibition resonate with The Huntington’s collections and educational mission, explains Jessica Todd Smith, Virginia Steele Scott Chief Curator of American Art at The Huntington. “While we are keenly engaged in examining the history of American art in all its diversity,” she said, “we are equally committed to exploring continuous traditions that link different moments in time and lead us to a fuller understanding of the cultural history of our region and nation. Sam Maloof is part of a long line of American craftsmen who made objects by hand that are at once beautiful and useful.”

Maloof’s dedication to virtuosity in his craft and insistence on maintaining direct relationships with his clients is similar to 18th-century traditions practiced by American cabinetmakers and silversmiths and by the early 20th-century architects Charles and Henry Greene— all represented in The Huntington’s permanent collection galleries.

The exhibition is made possible by a lead grant from the Getty Foundation. Major support was also provided by the Steven B. McLeod and Kelly Sutherlin McLeod Family Foundation and the Windgate Charitable Foundation. Additional support was provided by the Ahmanson Foundation Exhibition and Education Endowment and the Elsie De Wolfe Foundation.

Exhibition Catalog
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens has published a companion book to the exhibition, The House That Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley, 1945–1985. The 192-page, fully illustrated catalog chronicles the development of Maloof’s work from his earliest explorations of handcrafted furniture to 1985, exploring his achievement over those decades in a series of interrelated contexts, from his relationship to the Claremont-based art community to his leadership of the national craft movement. The House That Sam Built is edited by Harold B. “Hal” Nelson, curator of American decorative arts at The Huntington, and features contributions by Jeremy Adamson, curator of the 2001 Smithsonian retrospective on Maloof; and scholars Jason T. Busch, Jonathan L. Fairbanks, and Tia Vasiliou; as well as an interview with fiber artist Kay Sekimachi. Hardcover ($39.95) and softcover editions ($29.95) are available at The Huntington’s Bookstore & More and from booksellers nationwide. The House That Sam Built is published with the assistance of the Getty Foundation.

Huntington Library | Sam Maloof |

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