by Margie Hanson
Sunday, January 24, 2016, was the 100th anniversary of the birth of Sam Maloof, furniture designer, craftsman and woodworking genius. A Centennial Celebration, full of exhibits and events throughout this year begins on February 14th and Covenant Presbyterian Church is proud to be included in the celebration.
Sam Maloof’s famous work is with us each Sunday physically and spiritually, as he is the designer and maker of the furniture on the chancel and the designer of the sanctuary pews. Covenant Presbyterian Church is the first ecclesiastical design work Maloof ever took on, helping him to establish his reputation for ecclesiastical work. Photos of our furniture will be exhibited in the Sam Maloof Woodworker – Life/Art/Legacy exhibit opening on February 14th and maybe in even more of the Centennial Celebration exhibits as the year unfolds. (more below)
How Covenant Presbyterian Church and Sam Maloof came together is a wonderful story about the merging of two sincere purposes. Let us share it with you …
First, a little about Sam Maloof. He was a born craftsman. By instinct alone he made furniture, often compared to Shaker and Scandinavian Modern style, by hand, using no nails or hardware. When asked how he knew what he was going to do with a piece of wood, he’d say, “Well I really don’t until it’s all together.” The sanding process for his furniture could take two weeks and then he would oil and rub over four days. The surfaces of his furniture have been said to be as soft as skin.
Sam Maloof gained recognition for his unique distinctive furniture style and became a founder of the Studio Furniture movement in America. Studio Furniture is defined as “furniture made in a crafts-person’s studio with an implied or clearly stated functionality.” It is furniture that is often associated with sculpture and other fine art. You will find it in art galleries as well as furniture showrooms.
A famous Maloof quote speaks to his dedication to this movement, “ I want to be able to work a piece of wood into an object that contributes something beautiful and useful to everyday life.” Every piece of Maloof’s furniture represents this statement. Each piece has a timeless classic look with its form directly related to its intended function. “Evolution, not revolution.” His famous rocking chair is said to be one of the most comfortable pieces of furniture people will experience, yet is made of all wood.
The years between 1962 and 1973 were a period of expansion for Sam Maloof. During the early Sixties, the California Design 8, a design catalogue, displayed the new shift that was happening in the style of California crafts and design. California craftspeople had begun to explore more individualistic expression, and churches began to require more modern, nontraditional liturgical furniture to coordinate with their interiors of unadorned soaring wood, stone or glass-walled interiors.
It was also in 1962 that Covenant Presbyterian Church had finalized a design for the sanctuary and reached out to Sam Maloof to make a set of cherry wood chancel furniture: a communion table, pulpit, chairs and benches, as well as designs for pews to seat 340 worshipers.
Specific instructions for the interpretation of our sanctuary furniture were included in the church’s request to Sam Maloof. Covenant’s Sanctuary Planning Committee had put a lot of thought and planning into the unique design of the sanctuary. The committee included people who had been a part of the church since its beginning in 1958 and their planning included three years of study and thought about the meaning of worship in the context of Reformed Theology and Protestant tradition.
The result of their dedicated study distinguished “worship” as the single most important act of the Christian family. Therefore, from a document on the symbolism of our sanctuary ….
“The Communion Table with the font and the chalice, should emphasize the Word of God expressed through the sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The centrality of the pulpit should emphasize the Word of God as expressed through the proclamation of the gospel.”
“To increase the awareness of the individual’s one-ness with God and God’s world, the colors of nature were used throughout. The warmth of cherry wood, the glow of the sun refracted through the chunks of colored glass, were carefully planned to help the worshipers feel at one with nature and with God.”
The Christian symbols the congregation is to focus on are:
- “The gathering of the Christian family about the Table”
- “The one-ness with God as felt in the naturalness of color and texture.”
- “A Tau cross is designed into the pulpit”
Who better to understand the church’s intent and to interpret the Word and the Sacraments with sensitivity than Sam Maloof, a craftsman dedicated to creating furniture pieces “directly related to their intended function.” The communion table is central. The people surround it on all sides. The Word is spoken both from the Table and from the Pulpit by both pastors as well as by lay leaders. His successful translation is displayed in the strength of our pulpit as it makes a positive reformed statement on the proclamation of the gospel. The simplicity of the communion table suggests a common meal, the Lord’s Supper.
Covenant Presbyterian was, as mentioned above. the first ecclesiastical design work of Sam Maloof, presenting a new and welcomed challenge for the studio craftsman. A mutual appreciation between Maloof and our church evolved. Several years ago prior to the death of Sam Maloof, Presbyterian Women from Covenant visited Sam Maloof at his Foundation. They saw a display of the scale model of our finished furniture and asked if they might purchase it. Sam gave it to the women as a gift and you can see it in the church narthex today.
Sam Maloof enjoyed a career that spanned more than half a century, lasting until his passing in 2009 at age 93. He produced more than 5,000 furniture works and is widely celebrated as the foremost American woodworker of his time.
Sam Maloof’s Centennial celebration begins on Sunday, February 14th, with an “open to the public” Reception for the Exhibition: Sam Maloof Woodworker – Life/Art/Legacy. This exhibit runs through August 27, 2016. Public hours are Thursdays and Sundays, 12 – 4 PM.
On Wednesday, February 17th there is a special tour of the exhibition, Maloof Historic Home and Discovery Garden as part of the Palm Springs Modernism Week 2016.
Click here for a calendar of all Centennial Events happening each month this year.
The Maloof Foundation
5131 Carnelian St.
Rancho Cucamonga, CA 91701