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July 14, 2014

Celebrating and Preserving Arts and Crafts at The Maloof Foundation with “Betty Davenport Ford: Capturing the Animal Spirit” and “Craft at Play”

Written by  Esther J. Lee
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"Craft at Play” Exhibition at the Maloof Foundation. "Craft at Play” Exhibition at the Maloof Foundation. Photo by Esther J. Lee

Tucked away in the foothills of Rancho Cucamonga is a beautiful and serene 5.5 acre garden, filled intermittently with site-specific outdoor sculptures. With materials such as ceramic, metal, wood, stone- whimsical and minimalist forms respond to surrounding horticulture and landscape. This exhibition called “Sculpture in the Garden” was my first introduction to Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts, and although this is now over, there is still plenty else to absorb. On view until October 30th are two small exhibitions- “Betty Davenport Ford: Capturing the Animal Spirit” and “Craft at Play” as well as guided tours of the Maloof residence on Thursdays and Saturdays.

The location of Sam Maloof’s residence and woodworking studio also houses the Sam and Alfreda Maloof Foundation for Arts and Crafts, an organization which serves to preserve the artist’s legacy and benefactory work. For those unfamiliar with Sam Maloof, he was an expert craftsman celebrated for his beautiful and functional wood furniture. He meticulously handcrafted all his work, refusing to outsource or mass produce his popular designs. In an age when the handmade became increasingly rare, Sam championed the arts and crafts movement and became the first craftsman to be awarded the MacArthur Fellowship. Both him and his wife Alfreda were lifetime patrons of the arts, and it is in this spirit of fostering art and crafts that The Maloof Foundation continues exhibitions such as the three aforementioned.

The Betty Davenport Ford exhibition “Capturing the Animal Spirit”, curated by the Claremont Museum of Art, celebrates the local sculptor’s prolific 60 year career. Known for her stylized representation of the creatures she respected and loved, Ford’s subject matter included birds, wild cats, reptiles, and other mammals. The curves found in the artist’s forms are dynamic yet reigned, graceful yet powerful, and reflect a belief that albeit wild, animals are gentle and complex beings. Two particular sculptures that stuck out to me were “Fennecs” and “Jungle Cats”, both of which depict these predators in regal posture and with stoic expressions. Ford’s bronze sculpture, “Fennecs,” has two foxes fully rendered, emerging at a shared base where their tails meet, while “Jungle Cats” has what appears to be two jaguars fused with their branch perches. Angular cuts and edges show the artist’s hand, harkening back to the idea of artist and nature as creators of life and forms.

“The Craft at Play” Exhibition is a fun look at wood toys from different cultures, styles, craftsmanship, and techniques. There are Victorian rocking horses, Russian nesting dolls, European and Asian marionettes- polished and traditional classics, which are part of cultural heritage- in addition to unique works that are personal and endearing. The focal point of the show is a giant wooden Noah’s Ark filled with animals, parts, and people of inconsistent shape and size, misshapenly, proportionately wrong, and with visible jagged cuts and rough surfaces. Made by retired Reverend Brian Kopke, it is an interesting piece of folk art that serves more as allegorical model than aesthetic object; yet, this does not take away from its unique expressiveness, style, and spirit, which can only be described as warm and generous.

When visiting the Maloof Foundation, remember to buy tickets in advance for their guided tours, which are available on Thursday and Saturday. In the tour, visitors can hear stories about Sam and Alfreda’s life, learn about the construction of the Maloof home, and see the unique interior built by Sam that is filled with his iconic furniture and art collection. If you are unable to get a tour, at the very least take a walk along the Maloof grounds. Doing so, one gets a sense of Maloof’s humble treatment of material and environment, wood and its receptiveness to functional and artistic transformations.

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