Oral Histories

Interview of Sam Maloof

Furniture designer and woodworker. Craft and Folk Art Museum Board Member, 1986–1997.
Craft and Folk Art Museum Oral History Project
Biographical Note:
Furniture designer and woodworker. Craft and Folk Art Museum Board Member, 1986–1997.
Benedetti, Joan
Maloof, Sam
Persons Present:
Maloof and Benedetti, with Beverly Maloof available in the next room.
Place Conducted:
Maloof’s home in Alta Loma, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research. Researchers can also access the Craft and Folk Art Museum records, ca. 1965-1997 (collection no. 1835) in the UCLA Library's Department of Special Collections.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Joan M. Benedetti. B.A., Theater; M.A., Library Science, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana. Related Experience: Milwaukee Public Library Decorative Arts Librarian, 1967 – 1968; CAFAM Museum Librarian 1976 – 1997. From 1998 – 2012, Benedetti worked to process the CAFAM Records, 1965 – 1997, which are now part of Special Collections at the UCLA Young Research Library. She is the author of several articles on folk art terminology and small art museum libraries and the editor of Art Museum Libraries and Librarianship, Lanham, MD: ARLIS/NA and Scarecrow Press, 2007.Benedetti prepared for the interview by reviewing the relevant documents in the CAFAM Archives; a biographical file of clippings and résumés in the CAFAM Library collection at the L.A. County Museum of Art Research Library; and two books on Maloof’s life and work: Sam Maloof: Woodworker, by Sam Maloof (Tokyo and New York: Kodansha, 1983) and The Furniture of Sam Maloof, by Jeremy Adamson (Washington D.C. and New York: Smithsonian American Art Museum and W.W. Norton & Co., 2001). After Maloof’s death in May 2009, she also consulted with his widow, Beverly Wingate Maloof. The interview follows a very roughly chronological sequence with frequent detours. Sam doesn’t remember a lot of the later history of the museum. Most of the talk of the Wyles, The Egg and The Eye, and CAFAM does not begin until about half-way through the transcript.
Processing of Interview:
After Maloof died May 21, 2009, Joan asked Beverly Maloof to review the transcript. It was edited by Benedetti and Beverly Maloof for spelling of names and Joan added full names and opening dates of CAFAM exhibitions where appropriate. Both Tomi and Joan also added further information in brackets for clarification and deleted with ellipses some back-and-forth comments that did not add to the reader's understanding of the narrative. Time stamps have been added to both the table of contents and the transcript at five-minute intervals; the time stamps make it easier to locate the topics in the transcript that are mentioned in the table of contents.
1.75 hrs.
Regents of the University of California, UCLA Library.
Series Statement:
The Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM), founded in Los Angeles by Edith and Frank Wyle, grew out of The Egg and The Eye, a commercial art gallery/restaurant devoted to international contemporary craft and folk art—and (in the restaurant) omelettes. The gallery opened November 1, 1965 at 5814 Wilshire Blvd. and transitioned in 1973 to a 501(c) (3) non-profit, the Craft and Folk Art Museum, in the same location. From 1973 to 1984, Edith Wyle served as program director; in 1975 Patrick Ela was hired as administrative director. Wyle retired in 1984, going on the board, and taking the title of founder/director emeritus. Ela was then appointed executive director, and he added design to the museum's program. The restaurant closed in 1989, but the museum is still operating in the same place.The CAFAM Oral History Project was conceived by former CAFAM museum librarian (1976 -1997) Joan M. Benedetti, during her processing of the CAFAM institutional archives (Craft and Folk Art Museum Records: ca. 1965 – 1997), donated to UCLA Special Collections when CAFAM closed temporarily at the end of 1997. At the time, it was thought to be a permanent closure: all staff files including papers, catalogs, ephemera, clippings, press releases, photos, posters, videos, audiotapes, films, and some non-accessioned objects were given to UCLA Special Collections; the permanent object collection was sold at auction; the library collection was given to LACMA. While working on the archives, Benedetti determined to further document CAFAM's history through interviews with persons who had participated in that history. She conducted seventeen of the eighteen oral history interviews and transcribed seven of them. The rest were professionally transcribed with financial support from Frank Wyle. All transcripts were edited by Benedetti and then reviewed and edited by each interviewee. When the recordings and transcripts were completed, they were donated (with the interviewees' permission) to UCLA Library's Center for Oral History Research.The interviewees were selected by Benedetti based on what she knew of their involvement with CAFAM. These persons are by no means the only ones associated significantly with CAFAM's history. Quite simply, they were both significant and available during the time Benedetti had to work on the project as a volunteer.Of the seventeen people Benedetti interviewed over twenty-seven months (January 2008 – March 2010), ten are former staff and six are former board members, including co-founder and board chair Frank Wyle. Wyle's daughter, Nancy Romero, who had worked on several CAFAM exhibitions, was also interviewed. (Edith Wyle had been interviewed for the Archives of American Art in 1993.) When Benedetti completed the CAFAM Records processing in 2012, an interview with her was recorded by Joyce Lovelace, contributing editor for American Craft magazine. As the topic is CAFAM during roughly the same time period, the Benedetti-Lovelace interview is included here.
High school art experiences--Disney--5:00 Herman Garner, Vortox art department-- Millard Sheets--10:00 Harold Graham--15:00 Army artist, no fighting--20:00 Island of Attu--Brief marriage, divorce--Millard Sheets--Alfreda (Freda) Ward--25:00 Furniture from scrap lumber--Freda: Sam should work for himself--Los Angeles Times--30:00 Henry Dreyfuss--Kneedler Fauchere--Customers begin coming directly--35:00 Aileen Osborn Webb, American Craft Council (ACC)--1957 furniture show Museum of Contemporary Craft--Webb visits Craft and Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) in 1978--Stays with Maloofs in Alta Loma--Museums that own his work--Finding old house, one acre in Alta Loma--40:00 House for Freda that became so famous-- CalTrans--Freeway through property; choice of twenty spots--Freda picks site, dies before move--Beverly Wingate--Met many years before; married now eight years--Millard Sheets, Arts and Crafts exhibits, Los Angeles County Fair, early fifties--45:00 Article in House Beautiful--Boston Museum of Fine Arts organizes “Please Be Seated,” 1976--50:00 Many articles in past few months--Gallery built, new property has regular tours--55:00 Maloof and the Wyles--Edith Wyle asks Sam to build bed easel for Rico Lebrun--Edith just starting gallery, 1965--Flying up to Wyle ranch; in plane, Frank and Edith argue about starting gallery--1:00:00 Fire in chimney--Maloof does furniture for Wyles, about fifteen pieces--Edith calls: Frank will let her have gallery--Maloofs take her to New York City to meet Mrs. Webb--Renovated CAFAM re-opens, 1995--Rental of corner building; failed attempts to buy--1:05:00 Renovation mandated for earthquake stabilization--Sam: not having restaurant makes big difference attracting people--Benedetti: why restaurant had to close-- Ratkovich plan fails due to recession--1:10:00 Hodgetts + Fung plan includes corner building--Patrick Ela on Maloof Foundation board--1:15:00 Joan: CAFAM’s Maloof retrospective planned with American Craft Museum cancelled 1997 due to CAFAM difficulties--Sam doesn’t remember anything about it--Joan: The Egg and The Eye gallery gave him one-man show, 1966--Sam remembers--His first one-man show--CAFAM board and ACC board--1:20:00 Taking Edith to meet Mrs. Webb, George Nakashima--Move to May Company beginning of end for museum--1:25:00 Patrick Ela put on good shows--Joan: he brought design into museum’s program--1:30:00 Sam: Patrick’s hands tied by Edith, then by Frank, who was “money man” --“Made in L.A.,” organized by Bernard Kester, 1981, included Sam’s furniture--Maloof doesn’t remember 1995 gala re-opening--Patrick resigned 1996--Paul Kusserow hired--Kusserow resigns end of 1997--Museum closed for 14 months--Sam says that’s news to him--Freda ill and dies in 1998--1:35:00 Joan: Ela got museum re-opened by interesting Al Nodal, Los Angeles Cultural Affairs, in getting city to support museum--Sam doesn’t remember any of that--Sam’s house--CalTrans and the freeway--Beverly now “does an awful lot of work”--Now a new gallery, four storerooms, the old house (now a museum), a shop, a guest house, and a new house [where interview is taking place]--1:40:00 The best of Maloof’s past and present—Now the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts and Beverly, who represents future.