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Renwick Gallery Presents First Ever Retrospective of Sam Maloof's Celebrated Furniture

Contact: Smithsonian American Art Museum's Public Affairs Office AmericanArtinfo[at]
American Art's Web site:
Recorded information: (202) 633-8998

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum presents the first full-scale exhibition dedicated to the furniture of world-renowned woodworker Sam Maloof from Sept. 14, 2001 through Jan. 20, 2002. "The Furniture of Sam Maloof" explores the craftsmanship, style, life and legacy of the designer-craftsman with 65 pieces of furniture ranging from rocking chairs to dining tables and music stands.

"We are proud to honor America's most distinguished studio furniture maker with this retrospective," said Elizabeth Broun, the museum's Margaret and Terry Stent Director. "The exhibition is a fascinating look at Maloof's unique style and the evolution of his exquisite furniture."

Maloof is best known for his all-wood rocking chairs enjoyed by three former U.S. presidents. He became the first craft artist to receive a coveted MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, or "genius" grant, in 1985 and was honored with the American Craft Council's prestigious Gold Medal in 1988.

In honor of the exhibition, former President Jimmy Carter wrote a letter to Maloof stating, "For more than 50 years, you have shared your art and woodworking skills with anyone who has had the good fortune to know you. Your friends have become your customers, and your customers have become friends. Your passion for life, and for your craft, is obvious in every piece of your exquisite furniture. You richly deserve even more acclaim than has been given you."

Jeremy Adamson, curator of the exhibition and former Renwick senior curator, said, "Maloof created a seamless 'craftsman lifestyle,' integrating his craft into all aspects of his life and considering himself a woodworker first, and a designer second. He built his unique, artistic home—now listed on the National Register of Historic Places—room by room over 40 years. Maloof's home, attached directly to his workshop, is filled with his own furniture and collections of art and crafts, providing a unique showroom for his functional forms."

The exhibition highlights the progression of Maloof's work over the course of his 50-year career. It explores the woodworker's consistent drive toward a single goal—the perfection of his original prototypes. He makes continual minor adjustments to these prototypes, resulting in sculptural furniture that is beautiful to look at and at the same time comfortable and functional.

"Our goal with this retrospective is not to simply look at the end result of Maloof's work, though it is beautiful, but to understand the lifetime vision, workshop technique and evolving style of a genius," said Kenneth R. Trapp, curator-in-charge of the Renwick Gallery.

The design of the exhibition gives visitors a rare glimpse of Maloof's workshop methods and techniques. One of Maloof's chairs will be available for visitors to sit in to experience the feel of the chair, while a piece of a rocking chair mounted on a wall for visitors to touch will allow them to become familiar with its surface and line. A single rocking chair design exhibited at different stages of completion reveals Maloof's individual steps of creation.

Maloof was born in Chino, Calif., in 1916 to Lebanese immigrants. He received no formal training or experience in furniture making, but rather began as a commercial artist. His first major commission came in 1952 from industrial designer Henry Dreyfuss and led to the development of his sculptural style.

Maloof adopted unique techniques, such as a freehand use of the band saw, and invented signature features, such as the "hard" line and the dado-rabett or "Maloof joint." The "hard" line is a raised ridge running down the legs and arms of furniture pieces for aesthetic purposes, while the dado-rabett joint is a remarkably strong joint that creates a cleaner line. At the age of 85 Maloof continues to employ these techniques during his daily work in his studio.

The exhibition was organized by the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum. A free illustrated brochure, written by Adamson, will also be available in the exhibition.

A seven-minute video produced specifically for the exhibition by the Renwick Gallery and VideoArt Productions and filmed in Maloof's home and studio will be displayed in the gallery. The video was made possible by a grant from the Smithsonian Women's Committee.

A virtual exhibition combining images of Maloof's furniture along with quotations from the artist complements "The Furniture of Sam Maloof." It will be launched on the museum's Web site at when the exhibition opens.

"The Furniture of Sam Maloof," a 288-page book written by Adamson and copublished with W.W. Norton, also accompanies the exhibition. The scholarly text is based on new information from the Maloof workshop papers and locates Maloof's work within the history of the American craft movement. The heavily illustrated publication features a foreword by Broun and photography by Jonathan Pollock. Adamson is currently chief of the Prints and Photographs Division at the Library of Congress.

For more information about a variety of other programs scheduled in conjunction with this exhibition, including the Thursday at 1 p.m. gallery talk series "Take a Break at the Renwick," call (202) 633-8070 or visit the museum's Web site at

The Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum is dedicated to exhibiting American crafts from the 19th to the 21st century. The Renwick is located on Pennsylvania Avenue at 17th Street N.W., near the Farragut North (Red line) and Farragut West (Blue and Orange lines) Metrorail stations. Museum hours are from .10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is free. Public information: (202) 357-2700; (202) 786-2393 (TTY); (202) 633-9126 (Spanish). Recorded information: (202) 633-8998.