Nakashima – Woodworker3 November, 2015
YOU CAN MARVEL AT WHAT GEORGE NAKASHIMA HAS LEFT BEHIND, JUST AS YOU CAN MARVEL AT A FULL-GROWN TREE AND WONDER HOW SUCH A THING COULD HAVE POSSIBLY COME INTO BEING.
To walk onto the Nakashima estate is to enter a museum of intent. The sleek property buildings —from the reception house to the showroom, down to the pool house and even the pool itself —present cantilevered design elements consistent with Nakashima furniture. Each building points its most glass-laden facade southward, in order to drink in as much of the daylight as possible. Raw, eager cuts of lumber perch in the vast woodshed wearing handwritten notes suggesting their ideal future homes. It’s no coincidence that this precision reflects that of the estate’s greatest idol: the tree. You can marvel at what George Nakashima has left behind, just as you can marvel at a full grown tree and wonder how such a thing could have possibly come into being.
George Nakashima took a University of Washington and MIT education around the world, narrowing his architectural vision while living and working in France, North Africa, India, and Japan. When he came back to the United States, war broke out, forcing him and his family into the Japanese concentration camps. His pursuit of mastery, however, continued the best it could; a fellow detainee was a carpenter, and together they made furniture from scrap wood and old army cots. Architect Antonin Raymond — who George worked under in Japan — found priority and eventually success in sponsoring George and his family, triggering their release. They came to work on Raymond’s New Hope, Pennsylvania farm. It’s in that town where George would eventually barter for the land that boasts his estate today.
The property offers a glimpse of the peace and serenity George Nakashima hoped the world would share. The spacious and sprawling property, the nuances of the furniture —George’s dream of peace echoes through it all.
George Nakashima deeply believed that trees have souls. Souls with the energy to elicit a necessary happiness. It’s this energy that informs the Nakashima ethos in order to preserve the spirit of the tree. Raw, natural wood rests on a clean, architectural base. It’s harmony between art and craft, between nature and humanity. Still today, Nakashima woodworkers find trees who have lived their lives to completion, and they let each shape determine what it should become, and who it should belong to. They do not impose a form onto it. In doing so, George Nakashima hoped he could give the trees a second life. One that, if cared for properly, could last forever.
George Nakashima ensured his own second life by instilling these values in the heir to the Nakashima legacy, his daughter Mira. Mira lives close to the property, in a home her father built. Every day, she makes the short walk to the estate, guiding the process just as George passionately did for so many years. From start to finish, and with absolute reverence for the tree.
- Words & Photos: Matthew Johnson