George Nakashima was one of the defining furniture designers and craftsmen of the previous century, who transformed wood with ancient Japanese techniques. An open opposer of industrial production methods, he celebrated the soul of a tree and gave it a second life on the workbench by transforming into a unique piece of furniture. His attention lay on simplicity, quality and the natural beauty and imperfections of wood.
A son of Japanese immigrants, Nakashima was born in Spokane, Washington in 1905. He studied forestry and architecture at the University of Washington in Seattle and later at the Ecole Americaine des Beaux-Arts Fontainebleau in France. He later completed his masters degree in architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Shift towards spirituality
In 1934 he moved to japan where he worked for the American architect Antonin Raymond, who would later send him to work on a project in India. It was there that Nakashima immersed in the worlds of spirituality and yoga. In India he also began to produce his first pieces of furniture and decided to construct a peace altar for every continent. His first altar, made of black walnut slabs, was later installed at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York in 1986.
Developing his signature woodwork
Upon his return to Japan he met his future wife Marion. After the wedding they both moved back tot the United States. During the Second World War, Nakashima and his family were detained in a Japanese internment camp in Idaho. There Nakashima met craftsman Gentauro Hikogawa, who passed on his skills in Japanese woodworking to the eager to learn architect. His old mentor and employer Raymond managed to get him and his family out of the camp and to Pennsylvania, where Nakashima started to set up his woodworking practice, creating his signature functional furniture. He worked according to his philosophy of respecting the tree and not cutting the wood into planks. Depending on the shape and color of a slab, he determined what it would be used for.
The master died in 1990 after earning worldwide acclaim. His daughter Mira took over his studio and continues to work and produce furniture according to his beliefs to this day.
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