George Nakashima: Master of Organic Furniture Design

George Nakashima: Photo from Nakashima Archives at nakashimawoodworker.com

George Katsutoshi Nakashima created wood furniture with reverence and patience, sometimes keeping boards of wood around his workshop until their true essence was revealed to him. The furniture designer was born in Spokane, Washington on May 24, 1905 and passed away on June 15, 1990.  Even though he started designing furniture opposed to the popular concept of modern design in art and architecture of his time, his pieces were so unique that they constituted a form of modernism with nature at the forefront, and his style is often referred to as Organic Modernism. He believed that nature could be an integral part of everyday life and made wood furniture that reflected nature.

George Nakashima Wordwork | The Hudson Company

Nakashima went to the University of Washington to study architecture, where he earned a Bachelor of Architecture in 1929. He earned a master’s degree in architecture from M.I.T in 1931. After graduating, he took a steamer to France, then on to North Africa a year later, and toured Japan extensively after that. There he worked with architect Antonin Raymond, who had worked on the Imperial Hotel with Frank Lloyd Wright. While in Japan, Nakashima also studied Japanese architecture and design. Working with Raymond, Nakashima worked as project architect for the Golconde Dormitory in Puducherry, India. While in India, Nakashima immersed himself in the spiritual teachings of the Aurobindo. He was given the Sanskrit name Sundarananda, aptly meaning “one who delights in beauty,” for his work in India. He returned to Seattle in the 1940’s to build his own shop and teach woodworking. Later in 1964, Nakashima traveled to Ahmedabad on the invitation of Gira Sarabhai, and created many limited edition pieces of furniture at the National Institute of Design there.

George Nakashima & Mira Chair | Photo from Nakashima Archives at nakashimawoodworker.com

George Nakashima became one of the most innovative woodworkers and architects of the twentieth century and leader of the American Craft Movement, which focused on craft materials including wood, glass, clay, and metals.  Glass artist Dale Chihuly is another prominent figure from the movement.

“The woodworker has a special intensity, a striving for perfection, a conviction that any task must be executed with all his skill…to create the best object he is capable of creating.”

-George Nakashima

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