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Huntington Library features the art of Sam Maloof and friends

September 24, 2011 | 11:00 am

A Sam Maloof coffee table (1958) owned by painter Karl Benjamin with ceramics by Gertrud and Otto Natzler
In their sprawling redwood abode in Alta Loma, east of Los Angeles, Sam Maloof and his first wife, Alfreda, amassed an art collection rich with works produced by the community of painters, sculptors, ceramists, enamelists and weavers that blossomed around the college town of Claremont after World War II.

The master furniture-maker, who died at 93 in 2009, was a major figure in that community, says Hal Nelson, curator of American decorative arts at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens. And his home was such an important gathering place for art and artists that it has made "a wonderful central metaphor" for a new exhibition focusing on Maloof and his extended circle of friends.

"The House That Sam Built: Sam Maloof and Art in the Pomona Valley, 1945-1985,"  which opens Saturday, includes 35 pieces by Maloof and more than 80 by nearly three dozen others, including Millard Sheets, Karl Benjamin, Phil Dike, Harrison McIntosh, Albert Stewart and Jean and Arthur Ames.

The show, which is part of the Getty-sponsored Pacific Standard Time initiative, examines Maloof's "artistic evolution in the context of his community," says Nelson, who curated the exhibition. When the self-taught woodworker decided to design and build furniture as a career, his aspirations were buoyed by his Claremont colleagues, with whom he traded ideas and pieces of work. “The respect they had for craft supported Sam’s own vision throughout his life,” says Nelson. “Many of them also shared his dedication to hand workmanship, simplicity and natural materials.”

For more about "The House That Sam Built," please read this story in Sunday's Arts & Books.

-- Karen Wada

Photo: A Sam Maloof coffee table (1958) owned by painter Karl Benjamin with ceramics by Gertrud and Otto Natzler. Credit: The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens