George Nakashima: giving the tree a new life

Nakashima’s work was guided by principles of Japanese woodworking, which he combined with Mid-Century Modern and American Shaker design styles. His appreciation for nature led him to emphasize the beauty of every wood burls, knot, and grain like in his series of Conoid tables and chairs.

Bio

George Katsutoshi Nakashima trained as an architect, receiving his undergraduate degree from the University of Washington before earning a Masters in Architecture from MIT. His work for Antonin Raymond, a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, led Nakashima across the world to Japan, where he studied in detail about Japanese architecture and design styles. A project that followed in Pondicherry in India led Nakashima to discover spirituality, which translated into his works at later points. His work in furniture design began as he was interred in a camp during World War 2 along with other Japanese Americans. During this time under the tutelage of a Japanese woodworker, Nakashima created furniture pieces which eventually led him to pursue furniture making as his profession on being able to leave the camp.

My Story – Mira Nakashima-Yarnall from Princeton TV on Vimeo.

Style

Nakashima’s work was guided by principles of Japanese woodworking, and he combined these with design styles such as Mid-Century Modern and American Shaker design. He retained the form and color of the wood he used, which included the burls, knots and the grain. His design incorporated these features as a means of respecting the nature of the wood. He believed the aim of his work was to simply give a new life to the tree. His appreciation for nature was as an extension of the concept of Wabi Sabi, a concept which accepted imperfections as natural and thus a form of beauty. His designs used these natural surfaces with clean forms, creating a design fusion that emphasized the beauty of every knot and grain. Nakashima created numerous furniture pieces during his time, including a collection of over 200 pieces for Nelson Rockefeller. A rare opportunity provided Nakashima with a great black walnut tree, which he determined was to have an important role to play in the world. This led him to his vision of creating Altars of Peace on every continent in the world. The tree became the first of the altars and among Nakashima’s last work, and is now located in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.

Collecting Design: George Nakashima from Rago Auctions on Vimeo.

Masterpieces

The straight chair was designed as a modern take on the traditional Windsor chair. The design used finishes that brought out the grain of the walnut to create a modern design infused with Japanese traditions.
Created for Knoll in 1946, the splay leg table used a simple rectangular design with sleek and almost tapered legs that focused on emphasizing the natural beauty of the wood using a low sheen finish.

The Conoid Tables and chairs were named after his Conoid Studio, featured planks with freeform edges on cantilevered seats and legs. The tables were designed after receiving dining table sized planks from England. 

George Nakashima: The Conoid Chair
George Nakashima: The Conoid Chair

The three legged Mira Chair was built for Nakashima’s daughter, Mira. The design was developed from a Shaker theme chair.