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George Nakashima

American  •  1905-1990

Biography

Working out of his compound in rural New Hope, Pennsylvania, George Nakashima produced some of the most original and influential furniture designs of the post-war era. Nakashima aimed to give trees a second life, choosing solid wood over veneers and designing his furniture to highlight the inherent beauty of the wood, such as the form and grain. To this end, his tables often feature freeform edges, natural fissures and knot holes. Nakashima was an MIT-trained architect and traveled widely in his youth, gaining exposure to modernist design the world over.

The signature style he developed was the distillation of extraordinary, diverse experiences, which led to the establishment of his furniture-making business in 1946. In particular, his practice of Integral Yoga, which he studied while working under the architect Antonin Raymond on the construction of the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, India, had a lasting impact on his philosophy as a designer.

After returning to the U.S. in 1940, Nakashima's family was interned in an American concentration camp, a horrible ordeal that nevertheless introduced him to traditional Japanese joinery by way of a Nisei woodworker he met in the camp. He incorporated these techniques and also drew on American vernacular forms, such as the Windsor chair. These diverse influences have resulted in immense crossover appeal in the world of twentieth-century design collecting.

Insights

  • George Nakashima dreamed of creating "Altars of Peace" for each of the seven continents. Thus far, three altars have been made; the first altar, made from a massive black walnut tree, was consecrated and installed at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City in 1986.

  • In 1983 the emperor of Japan and the Japanese government bestowed the Order of the Sacred Treasure on Nakashima.

  • George Nakashima's daughter Mira, a trained architect, has carried on her father's legacy as the creative director of Nakashima Studios since his death in 1990.

  • Nakashima designed mass-produced furniture for Knoll Associates (1946) and Widdicomb (1957).

"Wood is a material related to man, a material that fills a need in human consciousness by drawing one into the fine relationship with nature and time — to produce beautiful things or inspiring things or simple good things."

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