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Woodwork Leads to a Passion for Greene & Greene

His Love of Woodwork Leads to a Passion for Greene & Greene

By Mary Quinn-Lumsden, Gamble House History Committee

Jack Stumpf

Inspired by his prized Sam Maloof chair, Jack Stumpf displays his own handiwork in wood.

Jack Stumpf’s woodworking hobby began as a 10-year-old when, mesmerized, he witnessed the talents of his grandfather—a woodworker, carpenter, and quite resourceful craftsman who made his own tools. When Jack was a sophomore in high school, his parents bought him an old lathe. That magic moment led to a lifelong appreciation of beautiful woods and a passion for woodworking. His knowledge and practical experience have given him a unique perspective while giving us a greater understanding of the wood and furniture in The Gamble House.
Not only does Jack have great organizational skills and a mind for details, his warmth and charming manner are ever-present. Perhaps this started when he was working in his parents’ drug store, which opened in 1938. “I worked all the time, kept the soda fountain clean and, of course, waited on customers.” After learning that his mother bought quite a few gift items to sell, I asked, “Hey, Jack, is that where you developed your love of Indian culture and gift shops?” His emphatic answer was “yes!” 

Aside from his parents, other people contributed early on to Jack’s life skills: A history teacher instilled a love of that field of learning, and his high school coach persuaded him to pursue a higher education. There his creative juices flowed in photography, leading him to be photo editor of the yearbook.
It was his wife, Mary Alice, a docent at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens, who gently said to him after his retirement, “You need to get out of the house.” Jack was Friends of The Gamble House (FoGH) President at the time and decided to test the Docent waters with a pre-acceptance interview. It was conducted in the Dining Room by Saverio Bono who, Jack said, pronounced in jest, “I don’t know if you really want to be a Gamble House Docent—not sure you’re interested enough!”  
Jack freely complimented several Gamble House Docents, staff, and friends who inspired him along the way: Nancy Ullrich’s winning techniques of being a great Docent and then-Director Randell Makinson, who was “always the most interested person in the House, just always interested.” It was Randell who confirmed Jack’s suspicion that there was no mechanically turned wood inside the House—everything was sculpted. Some time later, Jack and current Director Ted Bosley talked about this and mutually agreed the crafting detail should be included in Docent training. 

Artist Sam Maloof too kindled sparks. “Visits to Sam’s place [at its original location in Alta Loma] were delightful, seeing his woodworking studio and eating box lunches with other Docents or FoGH members.” Sam had an amazing memory, Jack said, including every chair he made and what he charged for each. Jack eventually purchased a piece from the artist for himself: a chair created for Sam’s granddaughter’s wedding, made in 1995. “I bought this beautiful chair that I enjoy every day.” 
Another Sam Maloof story came to mind. “You know, in his mind, he was kind of in ‘competition’ with the Greenes and their furniture. Sam was always interested in the fact that he did things that were different than those craftsmen did. But considering the time period—50 years later—he said the Greenes were amazing!” 
Jack also has great respect for Dr. Bob Winter, a “major player” in Gamble House history. He recalled how Dr. Winter would hear Docents on the Terrace telling guests that orange trees were planted in the Gambles’ backyard because they smelled so nice, when in fact they were meant to mask the odor coming from a pig farm down in the Arroyo. Think that story has been around the block a few times. Thank you, Bob!

He has a fondness for up-and-coming Docents’ points of view as well. Jack once heard a Junior Docent giving a tour to third-graders in Mary and David Gamble’s bedroom. He overheard the young tour-giver say, “The Gambles were so fat that they couldn’t reach their shoes, so they had to use this low chair to reach them.” Laughter erupted all around.

The excitement and passion that Jack feels about the woodwork in The Gamble House is contagious. “The way they made joints and how they would fit them together required an incredible lot of hand work, and it was amazing that it only took 10 months to build.” He shared that other subcontractors may have been used for producing especially large pieces of wood. Jack stressed the importance of the Hall brothers, Peter and John, noting, “Peter was more the contractor and John more the one who ran the shop.”

He cited the great collaboration between the Halls and Charles Greene, especially. “You look at the drawings that the Greenes made of the furniture, for example. A table had to be a certain height, and a chair next to it would be like so.” The Halls’ shop, he said, was in downtown Pasadena but it burned down around 1920 and many drawings were lost. Jack’s perspective is that most of the teak in the House proved they had access to “really good wood.” He was surprised, however, that more redwood wasn’t incorporated.

A favorite piece of furniture is the rocker in the Living Room—Jack loves that Honduras mahogany. “The black walnut furniture in the Master Bedroom is another gem in the House, gorgeous. And also the little desk and letter box in the Living Room which was made later, circa 1913, where the inlay is exquisite: ebony, holly. An example of the differences in wood pieces is seen there.”

Jack’s own woodworking talents are very much in evidence around The Gamble House, too. Did you know he crafted the beautiful board that hangs in the basement Gallery to keep all of our Docent name tags in order? Jack also made the clocks in the Den and Kitchen that have helped Docents keep track of their touring time for years.

Jack’s skilled background in wood and joinery was soon targeted by the Gamble House staff for “special tours.” He enjoyed conducting several tours for Harvey and Ellen Knell at the Blacker House. His fondness for them was shared with warmth. “They did some very special things for The Gamble House.”

Jack’s proclivity for charming people on his tours, or pouring wine for events, is well known. He shared a special memory about a benefit dinner served in the Dining Room for Julie Stahl, a major House benefactor. He recalled that Sue Zanteson made a nice beef dish and John Azar baked a great pie. At dinner, Jack went up to Julie and asked, “Would you care for wine?” Julie responded “yes” and Jack asked if she preferred red or white. Julie, he said, looked surprised and quipped, “We don’t have red wine at The Gamble House!” Whereupon Jack smiled and said, “We do for you!”

Meeting people who came to The Gamble House from various cities was fabulous for Jack. One was Roger Moss, who had a bookstore in San Francisco. He gave a presentation on Tiffany lamps and stayed overnight in the House. In the morning, Jack mentioned to him that “not many people have slept on sleeping porches.” Wherein Roger quietly admitted “well… now I have” (he had taken the opportunity to “experience” Aunt Julia’s outdoor annex).

Gamble House-sponsored trips to Europe, Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses in the Chicago area, and the Richardson House in Porterville, California, along with many ongoing education opportunities like visiting a Case Study House in Santa Monica (“with the great efforts of [fellow Docent] Elizabeth Harris”) are memorable in his heart. His trip to England and Scotland many years ago, keeping company with Bob Winter, made a lasting impression on him.

Finally, an against-the-rules confession—from a clock-maker, no less. “I was always one of those who didn’t feel the urge to have just an hour tour.” Jack said he felt he was short-changing visitors and what interested them. “It was natural when people started asking questions and I would go with the flow.” So unless he was holding up another group behind him, “I was going fast enough.”

About Jack
Born in central Illinois, Jack earned his engineering degree at the University of Illinois-Champaign/Urbana. He studied photo science at the Rochester Institute of Technology, then served in the U.S. Navy for three years. He and his wife of many years, Mary Alice, moved to Arcadia where he worked and raised a family.
The charming, articulate engineer who served as Friends of The Gamble House President was enticed to become a full-fledged Docent in 1994. His gracious demeanor while hosting visitors and serving them wine contributed to the success of many Gamble House events in the Gallery and even the Dining Room. Adept at photography, he is often on the scene documenting events at the House. Jack served on the Speakers Bureau, led many special tours at the House, and continues his 23 years of devoted service at the Greene & Greene Exhibit at the Huntington Library.

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