The Wonderful Woodwork of George Nakashima

Susana Ramudo

George Nakashima is considered the most successful Japanese-American furniture designer. Discover why, here, in this short review of his prolific work.

Born into a Japanese family in Washington State, George Katsutoshi Nakashima (1905-1990) studied architecture at the University of Washington. The Japanese-American artist is credited as one of the founders of the American Studio Craft movement, and his work has left and indelible mark on 20th century furniture design.

Nakashima drew inspiration from the Shakers, and every piece is steeped in the traditional Japanese reverence for wood and love of nature. Until his death in 1990, he worked from his studio in New Hope, Pennsylvania. He created pieces for haute furniture makers Knoll and Widdicomb-Mueller, for whom he worked from 1958 to 1961.

                            NAKASHIMA. → 1. Asa-No-Ha. Floor Lamp. → 2. Grass Seated. Chair.

The 70s are considered the golden age for this artist. During this time, he worked with precious woods, while refining his exquisite technique. The directors of the design wing of the famed auction house Phillips de Pury, have consistently expressed their admiration forNakashima’s work, especially the pieces produced during his more mature period: the 1970s and 80s. In December 2010 the auction house sold a 1981 Nakashima table for $104,500.

                            NAKASHIMA. Minguren. Coffee Table.

Perhaps his greatest contribution to art is his originality. He specialized in beautiful tables, lovingly crafted from large pieces of wood in their natural state and following the wood grain, whenever possible. His benches, chairs and lamps are also highly coveted by collectors and decorators. Nakashima shares the list of most sought out furniture designers with Carlo Mollino, Jean Prouvé and Marc Newson, according to the experts. Collectors are particularly drawn to two lines from the 1980’s: Sanso and Bahut, of which only a few pieces were made before the artist’s death. His designs continue to command high asking prices, but have failed to break record sales since 2006, when his famous Arlyn table sold at Sotheby’s for $822,400. But despite the economic woes of the last few years, auction houses still believe that the market for his work will continue to grow.

                            NAKASHIMA. Conoid Bench. With Back.

Nakashima rarely signed or dated his finished works. Unless required by the client, the pieces were only identified by the client’s name, the type of wood or the purchase receipts with the order number. In August 2008, his studio was designated a National Historic Landmark, and one of his workshops in Japan currently houses a Museum and Gallery for his works.

                            NAKASHIMA. → 1. Conoid. Chair. → 2. Conoid. Cross-Legged.

Since his death at the age of 85, daughter Mira is at the helm of the Nakashima Woodworker Studio, which produces approximately 65 models, including her father’s originals and works created by Mira. Occasionally, works initiated by Nakashima and finished by his daughter are credited to both.

The possibility of visiting the Studio to select the wood and work with Mira in the final manufacturing process is, for many, a real luxury and a connection to the legacy of George Nakashima.

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