George Nakashima USA, 1905-1990
‘To be intimate with nature in its multifaceted moods is one of the greatest experiences of life.’
George Nakashima was born in Spokane, Washington in 1905 and grew up in the forests of the Olympic Peninsula. In 1930 he obtained a bachelor's degree in architecture from the University of Washington and a master's from MIT.
After spending some time in Paris, George Nakashima travelled the world and spent five years in Japan. He worked at the Antonin Raymond architectural office in Tokyo, which sent him to Pondicherry, India, where he was the on-site architect for the first reinforced concrete building in that country.
When war broke out, Nakashima returned to the US with his wife-to-be, Marion, whom he had met in Tokyo. In 1942 the couple and their daughter Mira were interned in Minidoka, Idaho which the American government had opened to hold Japanese Americans. There he met a Japanese carpenter who had trained in Japan and became his apprentice, learning traditional Japanese woodworking skills.
In 1943 Nakashima was allowed to move to Pennsylvania and was invited to work on Antonin Raymond’s farm in Bucks County. After renting a house for himself and his family, he bought a property where he designed and built his workshop and house. This was the beginning of his long career as a designer and woodworker.
At his Bucks studio, Nakashima produced furniture for Widdicomb-Mueller and Knoll and also on commission for private clients. One of his biggest and most important clients was Nelson Rockefeller. Thanks to an order Rockefeller made in 1973 involving 200 pieces for Rockefeller’s house in New York State, Nakashima was able to widen his studio without having to renounce his approach of craftsmanship.
Nakashima’s deep respect for trees and his passion to ‘give the wood a second life’ underlie his magnificent pieces. Throughout his life, Nakashima always adhered to the Japanese concept of kodama, the spirit of a tree, making the most lively and vibrant furniture.
Among many awards from the American Institute of Architects and other prestigious institutions, Nakashima received the Third Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Emperor and Government of Japan in 1983 in recognition of the cultural exchange generated by the shows he produced in Japan from 1968 to 1988.
His last show in the US, the retrospective ‘Full Circle’, was held at the American Craft Museum in New York, curated by Derek Ostergard. It marked him as a ‘Living Treasure’ in the US.