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George Nakashima

American, 1905 - 1990

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The furniture of George Nakashima embodies a rich blend of Eastern and Western traditions, as well as the artist's reverence for the trees from which the wood came. After studying architecture at the University of Washington, the École Américaine des Beaux Arts in France, and at MIT, where he earned his M.A. in 1930, Nakashima spent several years abroad, including extended stays in India and Japan. In the early 1940s he opened a furniture workshop in Seattle, where he created elegant, Shaker-inspired pieces. When the United States entered World War II, Nakashima was held, along with other Japanese Americans, in a U.S. internment camp. Not deterred from his artistic practice, he spent this time training with a Japanese master craftsman.

After the war, Nakashima settled in New Hope, Pennsylvania, in a region with a strong furniture-making history. He spent his early years there absorbing the area's vernacular furniture styles, particularly eighteenth-century Windsor chairs, which served as a key prototype for his own designs. The influence of this early American model is most evident, albeit in a simplified and updated fashion, in the spindle back and solid board seat of his Chair. Nakashima also chose wood that was true to regional traditions, favoring cherry and black walnut.

In the 1950s, Nakashima cultivated the use of organic "free edges," a new approach that represented a significant contribution to furniture design. Used for seating and table tabletops, as in his 1960 Coffee Table, these natural-edged slabs preserve the rugged contour of the tree and reveal Nakashima's great appreciation of nature. As the artist wrote, "Ultimately the woodworker's responsibility is to the tree itself, which has been sacrificed to live again in the woodworker's hand."1

Suzanne Ramljak, from Crafting a Legacy: Contemporary American Crafts in the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2002), p. 117.

1. George Nakashima, "At One with Nature," in Derek E. Ostergard, George Nakashima: Full Circle (New York: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1989), p. 90.

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