The first George Nakashima (1905-1990) piece I ever laid eyes on was a beautiful one-of-a-kind bench. This was about 15 years ago in some long forgotten museum, but the image of the bench has stayed with me since. Nakashima’s method of highlighting the natural beauty of wood and embracing its imperfections has influenced several generations of furniture designers. The “natural edge” wood tables you commonly see today are a part of his legacy.
Born in Spokane, Washington, Nakashima studied architecture at the University of Washington and MIT. He traveled to France, North Africa, and Japan for several years, and began making furniture for the first time in 1937 for a dormitory project in India. He returned to the United States in 1940, and was interned in 1942 during the Second World War. It was here where he apprenticed with a Japanese carpenter, learned traditional Japanese techniques, and honed his craft.
In 1943, Nakashima was released from the internment camp and moved to New Hope, PA to work on a farm. Eventually he saved enough money to buy land nearby, build a house and studio, and start his renowned workshop, which is now run by his daughter Mira. I recently visited his workshop in Pennsylvania to gain an inspiring look into his world.