The heft and feel of a well-worn handle,
The sight of shavings that curl from a blade;
The logs in the wood pile, the sentiment of huge beams in an old-fashioned house;
The smell of fresh cut timber and the pungent fragrance of burning leaves;
The crackle of kindling and the hiss of burning logs.
Abundant to all the needs of man, how poor the world would be
Without wood.

Everard Hinrichs, quoted by Eric Sloane in A Reverence for Wood


Monday, January 28, 2013

Perfection in Wood - The Maloof Rocker

Work took me to Southern California last week. I expected the nice weather I found in Palm Desert, but I was truly blessed when, after speaking with the folks at the Western Pallet Association, I rambled down El Paseo Drive and into a cactus-lined courtyard called The Gardens on El Paseo. I was minding my own business of no business when, inside a trendy gallery called von Wening Art, I noticed wood out of the corner of my eye.

And not just any wood.  I knew as I approached that I was coming into the presence of greatness. There it stood, its well-rubbed walnut gleaming at me, bidding me to approach.

The shop owner smiled at me and introduced us. This is an original Sam Maloof rocker, he said. I continued to stare and take it in, speechless and curious at the same time.

Sam Maloof is one of the most famous American furniture artists of our time. He passed away in 2009, and this chair came into the possession of the gallery owner, who was a personal "friend of Sam". The design is well known to furniture makers around the world, and yet, they say, the quality of the chair can't be replicated.

I asked permission to take photographs.

The owner just smiled and seemed to enjoy my appreciation of the chair. And then he did the unthinkable...he invited me to take a sit.

As in a dream, the next few minutes were in slow motion. I instinctively reached into my pockets and removed everything to a nearby table. I wanted nothing between that walnut and my body, and would have removed my clothing if I could have gotten away with it. As I lowered myself, the chair seemed to reach up and attach itself to my body contours, as if the wood was a long-lost exoskeleton. I waited for the usual pressure points...but none occurred. I was sitting in the chair, on the chair, and yet, it didn't impose its design on my body. We were one.

No movement had accompanied the sit. No wild rock back, no tip forward. That chair sat as still as any four-legged side chair ever did. And then, with but a thought, I was gently rocking. No foot motion, no body weight shift...just the experience of perpetual motion without expended energy. I wanted to rock, and the chair rocked. As it did, I ran my hands along the contours of the arms. No chair arm ever felt as smooth and warm as this. No creaks from the back rails, no rustle from the rockers. Absolute silence in movement. I had found the perfect rocker.

As I rose and stepped back from the chair, I wondered, but felt it sacrilegious to ask, the price of this piece of wooden perfection. Most of these chairs are in art museums and the private collections of presidents and other notable personages. So I couldn't bring myself to ask.

But the owner read the desire on my face. Perhaps it was the tears in my eyes. And when he offered me the opportunity to have it delivered to my humble abode for only $32,000, the tears started flowing at this once-in-a-lifetime chance at wood immortality. And yet, there were the kids and the dog to feed...

And so, I left the gallery, and the Sam Maloof rocker, to another. To you, future owner, I say, take great enjoyment in this chair. It deserves an admiring set of buttocks.

As for Sam Maloof, rocking chair virtuoso...
"He was described by the Smithsonian Institution as "America's most renowned contemporary furniture craftsman" and People magazine dubbed him "The Hemingway of Hardwood." But his business card always said "woodworker." "I like the word," he told a Los Angeles Times reporter, his eyes brightening behind large, owl-eyed glass frames. "It's an honest word."
Enjoy some time with the man, himself.


Jeff Wartluft said...

This rocker looks beautiful and comfortable - a bit too expensive for me.

Chuck Ray said...

That's the way perfection should be, Jeff...just beyond our reach. Keeps us honest, and striving to do better.