George Nakashima - Design and Design Art New York Thursday, May 24, 2007 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Ben Shahn, New Jersey, USA

  • Literature

    George Nakashima, The Soul of a Tree, A Woodworker's Reflections, Tokyo, 1981, pp. 34, 39 and 178 for Ben Shahn prints framed in Nakashima frames at Nakashima's studio, p. 177 for calligraphy by Shahn, p. 33 for the mural designed by Shahn at the Minguren Museum

  • Catalogue Essay

    Ben Shahn (1898-1969), the original owner of the present lot, was a leading Social Realist painter best known for his work for the WPA, Farm Security Administration and various government agencies during World War II, as well as his mural projects with Diego Rivera. Shahn and his family resided in Roosevelt, New Jersey and made the acquaintance of George Nakashima in the 1950s. In 1958, Shahn purchased his first Nakashima table and within a few years, commissioned Nakashima to design and build an addition to his home, to be furnished almost entirely in the work of George Nakashima. The Shahn and Nakashima families grew close, and the two artists continued to collaborate, with Nakashima creating custom frames for Shahn’s artwork and selling them through his studio in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and Shahn designing the logo used for Nakashima’s furniture exhibitions in the 1960s.

    As artists, Shahn and Nakashima were united by the belief that art should be driven from spiritual energy to create and explore truth and enlightenment. Shahn’s art explored themes of social injustice and the plight of the lower classes, later focusing on his own religious heritage for inspiration. These beliefs were echoed in Nakashima’s attention to the ancient art of the craftsman, inspiration from his Japanese heritage, and his fascination with the organic and spiritual elements of nature.

    Shortly before his death, Ben Shahn designed a mural for the Arts Building at Nakashima Studios titled “The Poet’s Beard.” Nakashima would later rename this site the Minguren Museum, a term used for the people’s tool guild, to commemorate the individuals Nakashima worked with abroad and at home who continued the craftsman’s tradition of creating truth through art.

    ”Ben and Bernarda Shahn first met my father in the early 1950s, and became fast friends because of their similar views on art and society. They first bought a round dining table from the Parry Barn show one cold winter, and took it home in the back of their convertible, with several slugs of whiskey and Bernarda borrowing Dad’s old wool army hat from the camps in the Idaho desert. Because of their friendship, my father designed a second-storey addition on their single-storey house in Roosevelt, and furnished it with some of the finest materials available. This English oak burl coffee table was among the furnishings for that second-storey addition which were not built into the architecture.”

    - Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, April 6, 2007

  • Artist Biography

    George Nakashima

    American • 1905 - 1990

    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.

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Coffee table with Rabun base

English burl walnut with three rosewood butterflies to underside. Underside signed "Ben Shahn."
13 1/2 x 55 x 33 in. (34.3 x 139.7 x 83.8 cm)

$50,000 - 70,000 

Sold for $84,000

Design and Design Art

24 May 2007
2pm New York