George Nakashima

U.S.A. (1905–1990)
It is not uncommon to hear of designers who are inspired by the classics and the master designers responsible for them, but George Nakashima was actually inspired by what he considered “bad” architecture and the builders who tried to incorporate too much into their designs.

Although Nakashima held several degrees in architecture (including one from MIT) and employed himself as an architect for a period, he still took time to apprentice in Japanese carpentry during an extended stay overseas. When WWII broke out, Nakashima returned to his U.S. roots and set about reestablishing himself. He took an architectural tour along the Pacific Coast and was dismayed by the construction of many celebrated buildings. “They were badly, ignorantly built. The architects were overspecialized and knew nothing about building, like cooks who draw pictures of cakes but cannot make the batter themselves.” The extent of his frustration prompted him to take on a design and construction process more in the realm of his control, thus he turned to furniture.

At each turn of his life – some positive, some altogether tragic – carpentry was presented as a valued craft and livelihood. From his birthplace deep in the forests of the Olympic Peninsula to the Japanese internment camp where he was mentored by an elder Japanese woodworker, Nakashima’s aesthetic is a direct result of his exposure to the wood and people who regarded carpentry as a noble art form.

The tree as an artist’s resource was of utmost importance to Nakashima, who described felling as akin to cutting diamonds. From the appearance of Nakashima’s finished pieces, one can almost imagine him wielding his bare hands to shape the wood. He preferred, and was highly sensitive to, the distinctive nature of walnut, ash and cherry. And he would intentionally choose wood that might have been rejected by other woodworkers for its imperfections. Those imperfections were to become his beauty marks.
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