Preview The Book
George Nakashima: At
peace in nature
Nakashima was declared “A National Treasure” by the Japanese Emperor in
1983. He was a spiritual man who cared about the soul of a tree and believed
that a woodworker owed a sacrificed tree a noble life as a useful, beautiful
object. He believed that each plank cut from a tree had only one ideal use and
it is the woodworker’s responsibility to find that use and shape the wood to
realize its true potential.
Now, fourteen years after his death, George Nakashima’s work
ethic and spiritual beliefs are continuing in the family-run woodworking shops
nestled on a south-facing slope on Aquetong Road in New Hope.
Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, who worked by her father’s side for
twenty years as his assistant and collaborator, is now the creative director of
the studio. Under her guidance, the studio continues to produce furniture made
from her father’s designs and from designs she has developed using his
techniques and incorporating his philosophy and beliefs. A handful of dedicated
craftsmen, some who have worked there for forty years, still remain faithful to
George Nakashima’s aesthetic. What began as a one-man operation in 1943, now
employs ten woodworkers.
Nakashima’s childhood was spent in the Pacific Northwest where he developed a
love of nature and drew on the sense of peace that surrounded him there. He
earned degrees in architecture from the University of Washington and
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, studied further in Europe, traveled
extensively and, in 1937, began working as an architect in Tokyo.
Subsequently, he traveled to Pondicherry, India to design and
oversee the construction of Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
"My dad’s experience in the ashram influenced him—the
Eastern theo-centric rather than ego-centric,” Mira Nakashima says. “He
believed if you surrender your ego to the Divine, the Divine will give you
When he left the ashram, Mr. Nakashima returned to Japan where
he met Marion Okajima, whom he would later marry.
Becoming disillusioned with modern architecture, however, he
turned to furniture design and woodworking and in 1941, just as he was becoming
established, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He, his wife and newborn
daughter Mira were taken, along with all those of Japanese ancestry, to an
internment camp in Idaho.
they were released in 1943, the family traveled to New Hope where, after a year
working on a chicken farm, George Nakashima set up a studio and woodworking
"He designed and built every building on the property. He
did all the planting, all the landscaping,” his daughter says. “I really
don’t know how he did it, but he was always very calm about it. He had so much
subtle energy. It was amazing."
He also had a dream—to offer a Table For Peace to each
continent of the world. He envisioned the Tables, also called Peace Altars, as
“a symbol, a token of man’s aspirations for a creative and beautiful peace,
free of political overtones; an expression of love for his fellow man.” He saw
the Tables as a gathering place for meditation, prayer and peace discussions.
first Peace Altar was made from the bole of a walnut tree, two adjoining
six-foot wide slabs twelve feet long and weighing almost one ton. It was
consecrated and installed at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York
City in 1986. The second Table for Peace, built from the same black walnut tree
to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of the United Nations, was presented at
The Hague Appeal for Peace in May of 1999 and is now at its permanent site in
the Russian Academy of Art in Moscow. And the third Table, built in 1996, stands
in the “City of Peace” Auroville, which sprang from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram
in Pondicherry where George Nakashima was once a disciple.
Other countries have expressed interest and recent
developments suggest a fourth Table may be sited on another continent in the
In addition to his Tables for Peace, other major Nakashima
commissions include the Church of Christ The King in Katsura, Kyoto, Japan; The
Monastery of Christ in the Desert in Abiquiu, New Mexico; interiors for Columbia
University and furnishings for the late New York Governor Nelson A.
works are represented in the world’s most prestigious collections, including
the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, the
New York Metropolitan Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
Displayed in the Nakashima Showroom and the Conoid Studio are
examples of his furniture which was designed with the contours of the human body
in mind—long before ergonomics was a popular word. His cantilevered Conoid
chairs have hickory spindles and a slanted back. The seats jut out and are
supported by only two legs that rest on blade-like feet. Not only are the chairs
visually intriguing, they are comfortable.
to Mira Nakashima, her father was in his workshop every day working from what
she describes as “pretty sketchy sketches.”
“Because he was there every day, he had the luxury of making
changes when they were needed. It’s a real mark of genius that he could make
furniture that worked that way. Like Mozart, he had it all inside,” she says.
In her book, Nature,
Form, & Spirit (which was published December 1, 2003 by Harry N. Abrams
and sold out by January, 2004) Mira Nakashima surveys her father’s life, his
work and the influence he had, and still has, on contemporary design. Now in its
second printing, the book is illustrated with family photographs and working
drawings as well as recent full-color photos of many Nakashima classic pieces.
Publication was timed to coincide with the release of a full-length documentary
film on his life and an exhibition at the Mingei International Museum in San
Diego. The exhibition will travel to Sun Valley, Idaho and then to the
Japanese-American National Museum in Los Angeles in September.
to George Nakashima’s grandson, Satoru “Ru” Amagasu, collectors of
Nakashima vintage pieces fly in from all over the world to attend auctions where
the items are offered.
Design appointments are made for clients who want
newly-crafted pieces. “We work together picking out the wood and designing the
furniture,” Mira Nakashima says and refers to “a trio of energy,” the
relationship between the artist, the wood and the client. “It’s when the
client understands the wood and what the artist can do with it,” she says.
A visit to the Nakashima Reception House and Conoid Studio is
an educational, and also a peaceful experience. There are fourteen buildings on
the nine-acre property, four of which you may visit on a self-guided tour every
Saturday. The buildings, all built by hand by George Nakashima, are all
constructed of wood and local fieldstone, all face south for a solar advantage.
They are reached by gravel and stone paths that wind through mature shade trees
and cherry trees that in the springtime turn the sloping land into a froth like
pink cotton candy.
autumn, the Nakashima woods are ablaze with color and in winter the land is
quiet and the tracery of limbs and branches of the trees Nakashima so loved are
easily seen and enjoyed.
George Nakashima surrounded himself in beauty and this place
he called home offered him that in every season of the year.
In the introduction to his book, The
Soul Of A Tree. A Woodworker’s
Reflections, George Nakashima says, “We work with the boards from these
trees, to fulfill their yearning for a second life, to release their richness
and beauty. From these planks we fashion objects useful to man and, if nature
wills, things of beauty. In any case, these objects harmonize the rhythms of
nature to fulfill the tree’s destiny and ours.”
Tours of 15 or more people can be arranged as schedule
permits. Donations of a minimum of $10 per person are given to the Nakashima
Foundation For Peace.
Self-guided visits are welcome every Saturday from 1:00 to
4:30 p.m. except for holidays and two weeks in mid-August. The address is 1847
Aquetong Road, New Hope, Pennsylvania. All visitors are asked to wear
comfortable shoes that can easily be removed when visiting the Showroom and
For information or to arrange a group tour, call 215-862-2272,
or visit www.nakashimawoodworker.com.