The House that Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley, 1945–1985

Sep. 4, 2011Jan. 31, 2012
MaryLou and George Boone Gallery

Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley, 1945–1985

The furniture of midcentury craftsman Sam Maloof (1916–2009) and the art made by 35 members of his circle of friends is explored in the groundbreaking exhibition, “The House That Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley, 1945–1985” in the MaryLou and George Boone Gallery

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 will be the first to closely examine Maloof’s contribution to the development of art in Southern California.

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 to tell the story of the birth of the L.A. art scene.

Using as its central metaphor the home that Maloof and his wife Alfreda created for themselves in the mid-1950s in Alta Loma, Calif., “The House That Sam Built” and the accompanying catalog will shed new light on the rich network of influences and exchanges that developed among a postwar community of artists and artisans living near the college town of Claremont. The presence in Claremont of several nationally prominent educational institutions—in particular Pomona College, Scripps College, and Claremont Graduate School (now known as Claremont Graduate University)—furnished a rich intellectual context for this community. 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 a “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 along with 81 works by his friends and colleagues. Among the members of Maloof’s circle represented in the exhibition are 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.

Born in Chino, Calif., in 1916 to parents who had emigrated from Lebanon, Sam Maloof was self taught as a woodworker. After serving in the Army during World War II, he worked as a studio assistant to Millard Sheets, an iconic California scene painter and leader of the Claremont art community. Shortly after his marriage to Alfreda Ward in 1948, Maloof decided to embark on a career as a woodworker and furniture maker.

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.

An Integrated Installation

Since The Huntington first opened the Virginia Steele Scott Galleries of American Art in 1984, decorative arts objects have been displayed next to paintings and sculpture in meaningful juxtapositions. Harold B. “Hal” Nelson , curator of American decorative arts at The Huntington, adhered to this integrated approach when organizing  “The House That Sam Built.”

“The Maloof residence and workshop were filled with the finest examples of Sam’s own furniture and offered a warm and welcoming environment where creative colleagues met to share a meal, exchange ideas, and provide mutual support and encouragement,” he said. “Over the years, the Maloofs filled their home with artwork in all media by their friends and colleagues, reflecting their love of hand-crafted objects as well as their unique perspective on the world. The most natural way to tell the story of Sam and his contributions to the art world seemed to be through the integration of decorative arts and craft with painting and sculpture.”

As visitors enter the exhibition they will be greeted by some of Maloof’s earliest furniture—a round, plywood coffee table with walnut legs; a low, radically abstract “string” chair; and an office chair made for the prominent industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss. As a suggestion of a domestic space, these works will be shown beside a group of ceramics by Otto and Gertrud Natzler, a table lamp by William Manker, and an early geometric painting by Karl Benjamin. The painting is one of two works in the exhibition by Karl Benjamin. Also featured is #4, made in 1968, a recent gift to The Huntington.

Across from this group, visitors can explore three vibrantly colorful watercolors—two by Maloof and one by his mentor, Millard Sheets—all produced during a trip the two friends took to Mexico in late 1947 and early 1948.

In another section of  the gallery, paintings by Emil Kosa, Henry Lee McFee, and Milford Zornes will be placed next to a sofa, two chairs, a coffee table, and a bench. The bench is another recent gift to The Huntington.

Throughout the exhibition, visitors are encouraged to view Maloof’s work as beautifully designed sculptural forms. “The House That Sam Built” includes three examples of Maloof’s classic form, the rocking chair. It also features one of Maloof’s largest and most elegant forms, a free-standing cradle.

In an educational resource room, visitors can peruse letters and photographs, get a feel for the tactile quality of Maloof’s sculpted and smoothly finished work, and listen to audio recordings of members of Maloof’s circle discussing their abiding friendship and what it meant to their work.  See installation photos

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 (626-405-2142) and from booksellers nationwide. The House That Sam Built is published with the assistance of the Getty Foundation. 


Curator Tour: The House that Sam Built
Oct. 22 (Saturday) 9:30–10:30 a.m.
Join curator Harold B. “Hal” Nelson for a private tour of the exhibition.  Gain insights into the creative process of Sam Maloof. Members: $15.  Non-Members: $20. Registration: 626-405-2128.

Art Lecture Series: The House That Sam Built
Nov. 3, 10, and 17 (Thursdays) 10:30–noon
Join Harold B. “Hal” Nelson, curator of American decorative arts, for a three-part talk and tour of the exhibition.  In the first talk in the series, Nelson will discuss Sam Maloof’s handcrafted furniture within the context of painting, sculpture, ceramics, enamels, wood, and fiber by his friends and colleagues in the Pomona Valley. In the second, which will focus on the development of Maloof’s work between 1950 and 1985, Nelson will be joined by Jeremy Adamson, author of the 2001 monograph The Furniture of Sam Maloof and contributor to the catalog for “The House That Sam Built,” for an in-depth exploration of Maloof’s work.  In the final talk, Nelson will focus on ceramics in the Pomona Valley with a particular emphasis on the work Sam and Alfreda Maloof collected by their friends and colleagues.  Each talk will be followed by a brief tour of “The House That Sam Built.” Members: $55. Non-Members: $65. Registration: 626-405-2128.  

Lecture: “The Arts of Daily Living”—Showcasing an Alternative Modernism at the Los Angeles County Fair, 1954
Nov. 9 (Wednesday), 6:30 p.m.
In the Fine Arts Building of the 1954 Los Angeles County Fair, director of exhibitions Millard Sheets collaborated closely with the staff of House Beautiful magazine to produce an extraordinary installation of 22 architect-designed model rooms for which numerous Pomona Valley artists and craftsmen like Sam Maloof created specific works. These “realistic depictions of idealistic living”—viewed by almost 1 million visitors—promoted the magazine’s crusading vision of a more “livable,” American-style modern home, one in direct opposition to the avant-garde Case Study House Program supported by Arts & Architecture Magazine. The richly decorated rooms also demonstrated Sheets’ philosophy that the goal of living creatively required the full integration of art with daily life. In this lecture, Jeremy Adamson, curator of the 2001 Smith­sonian retrospective on Maloof, will discuss the landmark “The Arts of Daily Living” exhibition as well as Sheets’ follow-up show in 1955, “The Arts in Western Living,” in the social, political, and cultural contexts of its time. Free. No reservations required. Friend’s Hall

Children’s Workshop: Painting in the Garden
Sept. 17 and/or 24 (Saturdays) 9:30 a.m.–noon
Let your imagination and the landscape of the gardens be your inspiration as you dabble in the art of plein air (outdoor) painting, inspired by works in “The House That Sam Built,” with artist Marion Eisenmann. Sign up for a single class as an introduction or take both classes to learn even more. Ages 7–12. Fee includes one accompanying adult. Members: $25 for one class/$45 for both. Non-Members: $30/$55. Registration: 626-405-2128.

Teen Workshop: Plein Air Painting
Oct. 1 (Saturday) 9:30 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
High school students can tap into their creative side in a new plein air painting class led by artist Marion Eisenmann. Like the Southern California artists who have captured the region’s distinctive landscape in their art—examples of which can be seen in “The House That Sam Built”—students will use the gardens as inspiration for their own artistic masterpieces. Ages 14–17. (Parents may tour the gardens while the workshop is in session.) Members: $30. Non-Members: $35. Registration: 626-405-2128.

Children’s Workshop: Weaving Plants into Art
Oct. 22 (Saturday) 10 a.m.–12:30 p.m.
Turn plants into art by weaving flowers and natural fibers into original designs inspired by the gardens. Led by artist Melissa Manfull, the class will include a tour of “The House That Sam Built,” which highlights several examples of fiber arts. Ages 7–12. Fee includes one accompanying adult.  Members: $25. Non-Members: $30. Registration: 626-405-2128.

Related Exhibition: “In Words and Wood: Sam Maloof, Bob Stocksdale & Ed Moulthrop”
Oct. 1, 2011–Jan. 28, 2012
At the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts
Drawn from the collections of the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts, this exhibition was inspired by Jason T. Busch’s research for The House That Sam Built catalog and documents the rich friendship shared by three seminal figures of the woodworking renaissance of the 20th century: Sam Maloof, Bob Stocksdale, and Ed Moulthrop. While Maloof earned an international reputation for his studio furniture, Stocksdale and Moulthrop focused their talents on woodturning. More than 30 bowls and other exemplary works by Ed Moulthrop and Bob Stocksdale, along with recently discovered correspondence and related documents, are on exhibit as a part of the Maloof historic residence tour. Visit for more information and tour reservations.

Pacific Standard Time Pasadena Weekend
Jan. 21 and 22, 2012
In an unprecedented collaboration, five local cultural intuitions present a weekend-long celebration of “Pacific Standard Time: Art in LA 1945–1980,” the Getty’s initiative highlighting the post–World War II L.A. art scene. The Armory Center for the Arts, The Huntington, Norton Simon Museum, Pacific Asia Museum, and the Pasadena Museum of California Art are offering performances, exhibitions, tours, and admission specials that encourage visitors to see all the varied explorations into this remarkable period of Southern California’s cultural history. More information is available at

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.

Pacific Standard Time sponsors