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The deeply grained beauty of George Nakashima

August 20, 2018
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Nakashima's art later would be recognized for his unfinished edges.

George Nakashima is one of America’s most respected furniture designer-craftsman of the 20th Century.

Being of Japanese descent he was born in 1905 in the state of Washington where he received his architectural degree from the University of Washington. After receiving his Masters from MIT, he took his architecture degrees, sold his car and went on a world tour by way of a tramp steamer.

Along the way he landed a job in Japan with Antonin Raymond who had worked with Frank Lloyd Wright in building the Imperial Hotel. Eventually he made his way home to Seattle in 1940 just before WWII.

Once the war began to rage, he like many other Japanese Americans was sent to an internment camp in Iowa. It was there he met a man who trained him in traditional Japanese carpentry and the use of special hand tools and joinery techniques.

Eventually his friend Antonin Raymond was able to get him released from the camp and invited Nakashima to his farm in Pennsylvania.

New Hope, Pennsylvania became his permanent home and the place where he created beautiful furniture.

Today his property is designated a U.S. National Historic Landmark and continues to showcase his style of organic naturalism in the buildings, landscape and furniture on the property.

Some would say his modern designs earned him the moniker “father of the American craftsman movement.”

Walnut was his wood of choice and he explored the use of each slab of wood allowing it to lead him in his designs.

A leader in the American art movement, his small shop would grow into a small factory demanding the use of power tools to keep up with demands for his designs. Eventually he would be best known for his butterfly joints that connected large slabs of wood into tables with unfinished edges.

Nakashima passed in 1990; however, his daughter carries on his work and his designs are still being produced.

Having one of his original handmade pieces could be valued into the tens of thousands of dollars.

He signed very few of his pieces; however, there are some signed examples out there and that would increase their value.

Many times, he would be commissioned by an individual such as Nelson Rockefeller to create furniture. Often he would draw out a design for the individual to approve and if this scrap of paper were preserved with the piece it would also add to its value.

Jean McClelland writes about antiques and collectibles for The Herald-Dispatch.

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