When Joseph Gatto’s newborn was hit with an unusually strenuous bout of colic, the new father had two choices. He could vacuum the same spot 35 times while holding the child, hoping the noise and vibration would calm the baby.
“Or I could rock her in the cradle, which I did.”
The crying stopped. The soothing rocking motion did it. Thank you, Sam Maloof.
The cradle was made by master woodworker Maloof and has since soothed Gatto’s two other children and a grandchild. The piece is so beautiful, so uniquely crafted that even when not in use is a centerpiece in Gatto’s Silver Lake home.
The cradle will be one of several privately owned, rare pieces loaned to the Millard Sheets Gallery during Master Woodworker, Sam Maloof: One Half Century of Woodworking and Design, the latest exhibition to be at the gallery. The show runs April 4-May 2 and offers an assortment of favorite furniture pieces. The selections chosen will document the progression and evolution of Maloof’s designs from 1950 through the present.
Gatto is also loaning the gallery a sculpture of a chair arm vertically mounted in such a way that it gives the impression of sculptor Brancusi’s famous Bird in Space.
Other pieces being lent to the gallery are: a church pew from the collection of Nancy Field Baker; rockers from Bill and Rossana Baldwin and Nancy A. Ruddock; an early plywood piece from John Dominguez; and several pieces from Herbert and Kay Hafif.
Gatto, an art educator, has known Maloof for nearly 40 years. Gatto said he considers himself an admirer as well as a friend, and knows there are many others like him. He recalled meeting President Jimmy Carter, the owner of a Maloof rocker, at a book signing.
“I said, ‘Mr. President, we have a mutual friend – Sam Maloof’ and Carter said, ‘He’s one of my heroes!’”
As a collector, Gatto said he knows that with a Maloof creation, it is something that can never be recreated.
“In the process of loving his furniture, you develop a great affinity for the man.”
Gatto said he is impressed with Maloof’s humbleness. While awaiting the arrival of Joan Mondale, wife of former Vice President Walter Mondale, Maloof scooped up a rake and started gathering leaves. One of Gatto’s earliest memories of Maloof involves a young woman who had driven several hundred miles to talk to the woodworker. It is doubtful that she knew who he was or what he did, other than that he was a woodworker.
“She needed some advice on how to restore a little toy wagon that belonged to her grandmother. It was made of wood and could not have been more than a foot-and-a-half long,” recalled Gatto. “Sam took at least one hour talking wood and how to care for the little toy that meant so much to that girl.”
Besides the cradle, Gatto also has two Maloof settees and a rocking chair.
“With every grain of wood, you know you have something special.”
The exhibition is a fantastic opportunity for established admirers of Maloof’s and those new to his work to see a national treasure’s creations up close. For more information on the exhibition, visit the Web site at www.fairplex.org.