Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Adrian Lopez (Charlotte Perriand)

Charlotte Perriand was a French architect and designer, who believed that better design helps in creating a better society. She said her inspiration stemmed from motor cars and bicycles on the streets of Paris. She was also nudged by a friend into reading a couple of books by Le Corbusier (Vers une Architecture and L’Art Décoratif d’Aujourd’hui). She later managed to arrange a meeting with the prestigious designer.

Although Le Corbusier had originally turned her away at the age of 24, a few months later, he saw her work on Bar sous le Toît (rooftop bar at the Salon D’Automne exhibition in Paris), and hired her to join his studio as a furniture designer. While there and with the help of Corbusier and Pierre Jeanerret, she produced a number of steel chairs, tubular in design, iconic of the machine age.

Charlotte put Corbusier’s principles of into action when designing three chairs for two of his projects Maison La Roche (a house being designed in Paris) and a pavilion job for his clients Henry and Barbara Church. Corbusier required that one was designed for conversation (the sling-back chair), one for relaxation (square shaped LC2 Grand Comfort), and a third for sleeping (B306 chaise lounge chair, inspired by 18th century day beds). These three were designed with chromium-plated steel bases and were cutting edge for the time. Perriand even modeled for the publicity shots, wearing edgy clothing.

Working with Le Corbusier definitely had an impact on Charlotte. ‘”The smallest pencil stroke had to have a point,” she later recalled, “to fulfill a need, or respond to a gesture or posture, and to be achieved at mass-production prices.’” She even tried convincing Peugeot, the bicycle company, to adapt its tubing for furniture use. When they declined, Thonet was used to produce a series for the 1929 exhibit Salon d’Automne. The installation was an apartment designed to be a display of modernity. The floors were made of glass which were lit from below, to create a visual effect against the glass ceiling.

Amidst the 1930’s she created a number of designs for Corbusier’s projects: the student lodgings at Cité Universitaire and the headquarters of the Salvation Army in Paris, along with works for Corbusier’s own apartment on rue Nungesser-et-Coli.

Taking inspiration from the furniture in Savoie, she began experimenting with more rustic materials, like wood and cane around the mid 1930s. Despite such materials seeming outdated or odd, she was convinced working with them would enable her to produce affordable works for a larger consumer base.

She left Le Corbusier’s studio to collaborate with Fernand Leger on a stand at the 1937 Paris exhibition, then a ski resort in Savoie. She then worked alongside Pierre Jeanneret and Jean Prouvé designing prefabricated aluminum buildings. She then traveled to Japan to serve as the advisor to industrial design at the Ministry for Trade and Industry. She found herself stuck in Vietnam between the years of 1942 to 1946 due to the naval blockade. While stuck in Vietnam, she studied local techniques of woodworking and weaving.

When she returned to France she undertook the task of reviving her career. She kicked this off with a job at a ski resort, then worked with Fernand Leger on a hospital. Finally she met up with Le Corbusier in Marseilles and aided in designing the Unité d’Habitation apartment building. The architecture materials she came across during her travels in Japan and Vietnam greatly influenced her work, especially with the inclusion of wood and bamboo. These themes found their way into her work at Méribel ski resort and the League of Nations building in Geneva, and the remodeling of Air France’s offices.

As in the case of Plurima, the influence of Japan and Vietnam is easily seen. The clean edges, and square divisions of space, and medium of wood all point to characteristics of Asian design. The sliding doors are also a known characteristic of Japanese buildings. This is fitting for her since her design-sense was constantly evolving, in her pursuit of modernity. ‘“The most important thing to realize is that what drives the modern movement is a spirit of enquiry, it’s a process of analysis and not a style..’”

(Swivel Chair 1928-1929)

(Fauteuil Dossier 1928)

(Chaise Longue 1928)

(Plurima 1983)




Rojana Ibarra: Post 1 George Nakashima

He has a very clean style and has been influenced by traditional furniture, in fact he joked and called himself a "Japanese Shaker." But at the same time leaves the natural essence of the wood allowing for the natural "imperfections" of the wood to be showcased. In researching Nakashima I fell in love with his clean lines and the beauty of the natural wood, especially the raw edges he so mush used. He carefully chose boards to showcase the natural forms of the wood such as the bench on the top left.

"To be intimate with nature in its multifaceted moods is one of the greatest experiences of life."

George Nakashima was a Japanese-American architect, furniture designer and wood worker. He was born in Spokane, Washington on May 24, 1905. He graduated from the University of Washington and got his Masters degree in both MIT and Prix Fontainebleau from L'Ecole Americaine des Beaux Arts in France. After World War II he married and was sent to a internment camp where he learned traditional Japanese carpentry from a man named Gentaro Hikogawa.

He truly blended both his Japanese and American cultures when creating his furniture and home. In fact the house that he built was all handmade without the use of any nails, which I found amazing. The furniture he designed for his house went on to be designs made and sold from his studio, like the three legged chair he named "Mira" after his daughter.

He was a very peaceful man, who was influenced by meditation and I feel that it really shows in his work. He really worked with the soul of the tree and let the natural beauty of it shine. He had respect for the wood and joined it with butterfly joints. I have always loved the look of natural wood with raw edges, so as I looked up the difeferent woodworkers I instantly fell in love with his work.

Jan Cruz: Blog Entry 1

Clean lines, aesthetically simple, but visually exciting. That’s an area of artwork that I enjoy viewing. Simple repeated shapes, large scale, and most recently art derived from wood are some of those traits. After watching the movie on him in class, I can put a face on the familiar works I’ve seen.

One piece of his that moves me, not exactly sure why at the moment, is the Untitled piece that consists of 10 boxes that protrude from the walls and stack upwards, evenly spaced, and sitting pretty. What does it mean? Does the number of boxes refer to anything? These are actually questions that come up within myself when I am in the process of building, thinking, and doing.


The way Judd breaks up a space and how pieces are arranged in that space is another thing that interests me. Perhaps it’s the way the light shines upon a corner of a piece and how that shadow is cast upon the floor or onto another piece within the space. It could be the relevance a certain piece has in relation to the space that is lies in? Near a door? Window? Wall? Or does it simply look aesthetically pleasing when placed next to something, or next to nothing.

Material choice is also a strong influence on me. Concrete. It’s hard. Cold. But those moments before it solidifies, all it is, is mush. Soft, wet, grainy. Mud between your fingers Nothing like what is and will become within the next few minutes or hours. It then becomes this permanent object that is strong, bold, forever. An object that takes the shape of what it is molded to be. It could be a lump on the ground. The rough sidewalk we stroll upon. But in Judd’s case, as in the structures in Martha, Texas, the rectangular almost table-like structures that stand tall and mighty, look so peaceful and yet give a bold statement. They say I am here. Bold. And I am not alone with my other table-like and almost cube like friends. These structures, isolated from other surrounding buildings, lie in their domain as single pieces, but acting as whole.


Judd’s furniture might just seem like pieces of wood glued together perpendicular to each other. Being as minimal as can be. But there is beauty in that I can see. Almost Piet Mondrian-like. But most of Judd’s work doesn’t rely on such bright use of color, and when it is used, it makes sense.


Color is another factor of why his art entices me. The shiny chrome up against a flat white wall, or the gray scale against the brown foreground and wispy clouded blue sky. Both of which show his variety. Even if the subject is simple shapes, arranged in ways that give complexity to the entire work.

I think I’m most attracted to his work because of its simplicity. And with its simplicity comes the beauty. Don’t get me wrong as I do also enjoy the madness that is Metropolis II or Beam Drop by Chris Burden.

http://hydeordie.com/search/Chris+Burden/page/2 http://www.coolest-gadgets.com/20101126/metropolis-ii-art-toy/

Perhaps its the order that I see in the chaos. Because with order comes a system, and the system is fairly simple. But regardless of chaos or ultra minimalist, I can respect both artists with what they do, and how they do it.

Donald Judd’s work might have a difficult time taking the sculpture name. Albeit the wood he cuts and sands is no different that melting wax and forming clay that other sculptors typically use. Both are manipulating mediums. But its up to the viewers subjectivity to analyze and critique the work that stands or hangs before them.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Andrew Chang

George Nakashima
George Nakashima is a Japanese American, who was famous for his woodwork. George grew up having strong ties to his Japanese culture which would greatly spark his interest in the study and characteristics of Japanese woodwork. Nakashima graduated from the University of Washington with a Bachelors of Architecutre and later a Masters from MIT. Nakashima started to travel the world which would greatly open his views on woodwork and influence the type of style that he would use. From Paris to Japan, Nakashima's travels opened his eyes to various types of woodwork giving him a diverse view on wood design. Later, George would be employed for an American architect named Antonin Raymond but most of his focus and studies were in Japanese architect.
In 1937, the architect company was hired to build a dorm in India, where Nakashima was the major consultant. In India, Nakashima was able to learn more about East Indian woodwork and helped open his view on woodwork even more. After his work in India, Nakashima believed in removing one's ego from woodwork and instead devoting his creative process religiously, which is the opposite to the majority of Western culture. Nakashima received much praise from his work in India and was given the Sanskrit name "sundarananda" which meant, one who delights in beauty.
During World War II, Nakashima moved back to America and was placed in a Japanese internment camp, where he met Gentaro Hikogawa, who was trained in traditional Japanese woodwork. Throughout his time with Hikogawa, Nakashima learned to use traditional Japanese tools and designs. After being released from the internment camp, Nakashima settled down in Pennsylvania, where he would set up his own woodwork shop and studio. Nakashima produced many pieces for various clients including the furniture line Knoll. Through his work, George became internationally known working for private homes, churches, and corporate buildings.
Through his work, Nakashima aims for perfection like most Japanese woodwork. Nakashima is famous for having large finished tables with natural unfinished edges connected with butterfly joints. The butterfly joints were strong joints and helped him greatly because of his natural unfinished wood pieces. Nakashima saw more beauty in the natural unfinished pieces than the mainstream pieces with perfect edges and glossy finishes. Nakashima also liked to used natural oils on the table instead of the regular hard finish because he liked to show the natural grain of the wood. Some of his famous pieces besides the natural unfinished pieces include the Mira Chair (named after his daughter) and the Conoid chair which was supported by two blade like feet. The Mira Chair was originally designed for his daughter, but Nakashima expanded on the pieces and soon became a popular chair with a high and low style of the chair. This practice of working with both unfinished and finished pieces gave the idea of equality among wood pieces no matter what they looked lie. This idea seemed to reflect off Nakashima telling people that they should not judge on the outside appearance but appreciate a piece/person no matter what. Because of Nakashima's idea and style of work, his natural unfinished pieces were much more popular and desirable than his mainstream woodwork.
After Nakashim's death, his daughter would oversee the woodshops that he left behind. Nakashima left behind a legacy in his unique work that is still today greatly appreciated by many woodowkr enthusiasts and architects. Nakashima is greatly remembered for his natural, rough, knotted, unifished edges on his pieces and set a style that would become uniquely popular among people. One of Nakashima's woodshop, which is located in Japan, has become a musem that holds many of his pieces.

Julia Weber

William Morris

“Have nothing in your house that you do not believe to be useful or beautiful.” - William Morris -

The artist and writer William Morris (1834-1896) was a man of many talents, he was a painter, designer, printer, entrepreneur and social reformer all at once. He wrote and published poetry, fiction, and translations of ancient and medieval texts throughout his life. Morris was a key figure in the Arts and Crafts movement of the late nineteenth century. A movement made up by British designers and writers with an inherent craft idealism advocating a return to well-made, handcrafted goods as a reaction against mass production and industrialization.

Morris ideas about craft were also reflected in his political views. He was influenced by the readings of John Ruskin and Karl Marx and by his interest in medieval traditions. Morris defined the Middle Ages as a period of pure handicraft, in which all production was individualistic in method. The workman worked for himself and any tool he used was merely an aid and not a supplement to his hand labor.

During the industrialization the division of labor and the production by machinery replaced the production by handicraft. The old ways of workmanship were lost and to Morris the workman became merely part of a machine. Morris claimed that the new, machine-made goods were ugly, anything old was replaced by something inferior in beauty. But it was not just the beauty of goods that got lost in industrialization, but also the joy of making them and the happiness in daily work. Morris expressed the need for a system of production that would allow the creation of beautiful surroundings as well as a pleasant occupation. Morris himself was unable to put his desire for an aesthetic and political reform into practice. His wish for a return to production by handicraft for beauty´s and society´s sake stood in contrast to the demands of the capitalistic marketplace.

While he was not able to realize his ambitions for society as a whole, he was able to realize and promote his ideas about beauty and craftsmanship in the decorative arts firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co (later just Morris & Co) which he and fellow artists founded during 1961. The company designed and produced decorative objects for the Victorian home, such as wallpapers, textiles, furniture and was particularly well-known for its stained glass, examples of which can be seen in churches throughout Britain. Morris became known as a designer of decorative wallpapers often characterized by floral patterns. By 1883, Morris wrote "Almost all the designs we use for surface decoration, wallpapers, textiles, and the like, I design myself. I have had to learn the theory and to some extent the practice of weaving, dyeing and textile printing: all of which I must admit has given me and still gives me a great deal of enjoyment."

In 1885 the periodical “Godey´s Lady´s Book” published an article that illustrated and described a Morris & Co. parlor (living room). The author wrote in detail about the artistic furniture, the special art fabrics, elegant chandeliers and the richly carved mantel. The wood work is described as “finely carved and polished old oak and solid mahogany, the furniture from the Morris Company being a rich and boldly carved dragon design, in mahogany.” The author concludes her impression of the parlor as follows, “the whole effect that has been produced is entirely artistic and pleasing to the most fastidious, and illustrates most forcibly what results from that treatment of the Morris Company Art Fabrics, in which is at once discernible the clearly defined conception of the artist decorator, who blends designs and colors in beautiful harmony.”

A piece of furniture that can still be found today is the Morris chair. Introduced in 1866 the Morris chair was not actually designed by William Morris, but made by Morris & Co. The characteristic feature of a Morris chair is a hinged back, set between two un-upholstered arms, with the reclining angle adjusted through a row of pegs, holes or notches in each arm. The original Morris chair had dark stained woodwork, turned spindles and heavily decorated upholstery. The chair was widely copied after Morris' introduction, and is still manufactured. It is not just Morris chair that remains, but also the ideals of the Arts and Crafts movement and the desire for authentic craftsmanship that continue to resonate today.

William Morris Golden Lily Minor wallpaper (source: http://www.victoriana.com/Wallpaper/williammorris.php)

Morris & Co Living Room
(source: http://www.victoriana.com/williammorris/morriscompany.html)

Morris Chair
(source: http://desertcraftsmen.com/MorrisChairsHome.shtml)
Nathan Cox
Blog 1
William Morris

My first exposure to William Morris came from an undergraduate drawing class. I came across a page from an illuminated volume of Chaucer (top image) while researching for a manuscript project and thought that it might make an interesting reference. Noticing the production date (several centuries later than the style would suggest), I made a point of conducting some extra research. This information pointed to an artist who longed for a return to a more traditional production system, though there seemed to be more at work than just wishing for the good old days. I was drawn by Morris' desire to improve the lives of craftsmen and consumers, and amused by the fact that the period he chose to reference with his work is known for having produced some of the most wretched living conditions in human history.

Morris does not make it easy for the viewer to engage his work without prior knowledge of his background and motivations. As a key figure in the Arts and Crafts movement, as well as emerging socialist groups, much of his work (along with that of his contemporaries) can be examined based on his disdain for the state of decorative arts of the period. Morris and his partners (including artist Edward Burne-Jones and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti) sought to revive the dignity of the trade by offering practical objects created by skilled craftsmen. This stood in stark contrast to the prevailing production style of the period, characterized by an overabundance of expensive, poorly-made decorative products forced upon a struggling public. Basing production on the medieval guild system, they hoped, would ensure a higher standard in design while supporting a skilled and respected working-class. Quality at all levels of production, as well as affordability and availability followed, drawing the firm to support the consumer as much as the artisan.

For Morris, this reverence for the Middle Ages was not limited to a business model. A dedicated artist, scholar and medievalist, Gothic architectural characteristics, as well as archaic printing techniques and floral/faunal design schemes found their way into all of his products and soon became a trademark of his firm. As can be seen in the examples below, many of Morris' furniture pieces share a characteristic stocky, fortress-like build reminiscent of Romanesque architecture. These plank-heavy objects tend to sit low to the ground, supported by thick legs. Lobed arches, cruciform supports, buttressing and prominent molding combine to give the impression that each Morris piece was made by hands belonging to a different time (second from top). The shift from squat, sturdy pieces to more graceful forms (third from top) can perhaps be tied to the personal involvement of Morris. Only some of the very early furniture items are attributed to him personally (his specialty seems to have been fabrics, tile, wall-paper and book-making). After the early 1860s, the majority of the firm's furniture design seems to have been carried out by a staff overseen by Morris, who functioned as a sort of final reference before pieces went into production.

The furniture designs typical of Morris' firm fall into two categories, based on intended use. Pieces following the first type were intended for everyday use (fourth from top). Unadorned and stripped down to the most basic (almost crude) forms, these pieces were specialized for non-glamorous private use. The firm's showroom pieces, on the other hand, demonstrate the soaring heights of medieval design. These pieces were meant to be seen as well as used. Lavishly embellished (often with painting or patterns carried out by Morris himself) and ornately carved, items from this category were often designed to fit into a specific architectural situation (the Red House, Morris' home for a number of years, serves as a good example of the total integration of decoration and construction he preferred - bottom).

In spite of Morris' dedication and ideals, however, the idea of incorporating too many of his design principles into my own work seems frightening. A little goes a long way when it comes to these designs. While the furniture is of unequivocally sound construction, many of the decorative schemes used to augment the pieces leave something to be desired. Suffering from the severity and crowding often seen in medieval art, many of Morris' wallpapers, upholstery and prints seem to stagger under their own weight. Additionally, while the everyday pieces strike a fine balance between utility and aesthetics, many of the more heavily embellished items seem awkward by comparison. Rather than examples of functional design, they stand out as pieces that might have been lifted from a living history museum and were never quite meant to be used. All in all, it seems best to pick and choose when it comes to Morris. Referencing any historical tradition means walking a fine line. There is a reason, after all, that most medieval construction techniques have been replaced over the years, and the link between stylistic/aesthetic concerns and social/economic context need not be a fixed one.

Images (from top):

Sample from The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, 1896 (University of Texas - Austin)

Painted table, 1856 (Arts and Crafts Museum at Cheltenham Art Gallery and Museum)

Settle at Coddington All Saints (www.flickr.com)

Rush Seated Chairs (www.victorianwed.org)

Interior, Red House (www.williammorristile.com)


Bradley, Ian C. William Morris and His World. New York: Scribner, c.1978.

Parry, Linda, ed. William Morris. New York: Abrams. 1996

Van der Post, Lucia. William Morris and Morris & Co. London: V&A, 2003.

Yvonne Escalante

A very brief introduction to Wooden Instruments

Though wood, because of over-use, cost, and the inherent difficulties of working with an unpredictable natural substance, is being replaced in many applications by metal or synthetic materials, the use of wood in stringed musical instruments is not likely to end. The physical properties of wood, from its density to its grain pattern, make it an ideal resonant material. By selecting for species and grain, and employing construction techniques that have been perfected over hundreds of generations, an already effective material can be transformed into a resonant body of surprising strength and clarity of tone. Though plastics and metals have indeed been used for guitars and the like, they create a sound that is distinct and not always pleasant. But when knowledge of wood is combined with great construction skills, the result is an object of visual and aural beauty.

Like any woodworker, an instrument maker must be well versed in both materials and techniques. The great challenge in crafting an instrument, though, is that its ultimate purpose – smoothly amplifying sound – cannot be tested until the object is done. Just as there is little use in a beautifully crafted canoe that doesn’t float, a visually impressive mandolin that does not make pretty music is not living up to its purpose. Thus, the instrument craftsperson – often called a luthier, a term derived from the 16th century makers of Italian lutes – has many factors to consider during the construction process.

Though joinery and skill are essential in creating a functional instrument, it can be argued that the wood itself is the most important element. Though sound can be transmitted through all media – stone, metal, air, cucumbers – it travels best through dense materials. As less dense materials are uses, and porosity increases, sound becomes dampened as it is absorbed by empty space in the material. Wood itself, varies quite a bit in density, and the varying cellular structure in different species affects its effectiveness as a resonator. Spruce, for example, is a traditional material for the soundboards in instruments such as guitars and pianos, as it has a very high strength to weight ratio. (Siminoff and Wagner, The Art of Tap Tuning, Hal Leonard). Walnut is another instrumental wood that is used for its high sustain (length of time a note resonates). Different woods are also selected for different instruments (e.g., classical guitar versus violin or lute), as their physical properties add to the desired sound.

In the hands of an untrained instrument builder, the quality and character of the wood make little difference. Indeed, an individual luthier’s process can have such an impact on the eventual sound of the instrument that he or she can be identified from its tone. The classic example of this impact is violin maker Antonin Stradivari, 17th century maker of the Stradivarius violin. The mystery of Stradivarius violins is legendary – some say the magnificent tone came from the wood, others the assembly process, and many believe Stradivari’s proprietary varnish – made varyingly from honey, egg whites, gum Arabic, and various salts and metals – bore responsibility for the famous sound. What is clear, after years of investigation, is that Stradivari built his instruments with an innate knowledge of physics and acoustics that was well in advance of the science of the time. Physicist George Bissinger, who has studied the composition of antique violins, says “He had some kind of conceptual understanding of the science behind what he was doing, even though physics technically wasn’t around yet” (Ouellette, “Anatomy of a Stradivarius,” Scientific American, 12/5/11).

It is impossible to convey the complex methods involved in instrument making in such a short blog. For those of you who are interested in trying their hand at constructing a guitar, I came across a blog that demystifies this process “Building An Acoustic Guitar In Your Kitchen” And I thought gluing up a table took a lot of clamps!

The Grand Shrine at Ise


Traditional Japanese joinery enjoys a long and complex history, one which I cannot do justice in a short blog entry. However, one facet of this time-honored tradition that is of particular interest to me is the Shinto shrine builders and more specifically the Grand Shrine of Ise.

The Grand Shrine at Ise was originally constructed in the 3rd century CE to honor the sun goddess and the ancestor of the Japanese Emperors Amaterasu-ōmikami.

Shinto or “divine way” was born out of agrarian Japan. Because of this, Shinto is a lifestyle that preserves traditional values and respect for nature. The integral Shinto concept of Wabi (purity and humility)-Sabi (stillness and rusticity) dictates the simplicity and elegance of the shrine’s construction. Also integral to this agrarian-based philosophy is the idea of the cyclical nature of things: the cycle of death and rebirth of all living things. Every 20 years and at great expense, the Shrine of Ise is ritualistically dismantled, destroyed, and rebuilt in the tradition of the first structure. By doing so, the shrine remains ancient yet forever new. This rebirth and structural metaphor for the impermanence of life (wabi-sabi) also plays an important role in preserving traditional joinery techniques and construction methods that would have otherwise been lost centuries ago, serving no practical purpose in modern building construction.


Around strict ritual practices, the shrine is rebuilt on two alternating sites. Long before the dismantling of one site, the reconstruction is taking place in the other. This long process begins with the marking of the ideal Japanese cypress trees, selected for their exacting proportions. According to George Nakashima, such ideal specimens may be earmarked 200 years in advance for sacred structures. After the trees are felled in the spring, while they are full of sap, they are left to “rest” in the forest so that the kami or spirits in the tree can find other dwellings. The logs are later shaped by Shinto craftsmen and rubbed with persimmon juice until the logs turn a golden brown. The shrine is constructed using simple mortise and tenon joints. The carpenters use traditional hand tools that have been employed for centuries and all joints are made by hand. No modern machinery is used in the construction of the shrine. The joints are done with such precision that no nails or other adhesives are used to hold together the structure. Scarcely is there evidence of any seams as the parts fit together so precisely. Every detail of construction, no matter how small, is done with the greatest respect for nature and tradition


The dichotomy created by this traditional respect for craft and nature while also consuming and destroying a continually shrinking resource in Japan, the prized Japanese cypress, is perplexing. Without the tradition of the ritualistic dismantling, destroying and recreation of the Grand Shrine of Ise, an ancient skill passed down for many generations from master to apprentice, could be lost. However, with such a fast-shrinking resource and enormous expense one wonders how long this tradition can continue. The 61st iteration of the shrine is scheduled to begin in 2013.

While doing some research for this post I came across a startling article headline in Bussinessweek

The End of a 1,400-Year-Old Business: What entrepreneurs starting family businesses can learn from the demise of Japanese temple builder Kongo Gumi

“The world's oldest continuously operating family business ended its impressive run last year. Japanese temple builder Kongo Gumi, in operation under the founders' descendants since 578, succumbed to excess debt and an unfavorable business climate in 2006.”


George Nakashima

“There is mystery in the creative process and its relation to craft; the infinite moves into dark waters. To find an answer to problems as we see them, to seek solutions and produce objects in space, to fulfill man’s needs with a touch of beauty, to use materials dear to nature, making small answers with useful things- since my earliest experience as a woodworker, all this has been my destiny.”

-George Nakashima, At One With Nature

Following the industrial revolution, the fine line between what was handmade and what was mass-produced became blurred. The craftsman’s connection with material and process became distanced. Technological advances in machinery could be seen as progress, allowing goods to be made quicker and cheaper than ever before, or they could be seen as a breaking our vital link with nature and respect for its resources. To George Nakashima, the latter was true. After World War I, small workshops where failing as factories of mass-production took their place. George Nakashima was careful throughout his career to maintain an intimate relationship with the work being produced in his workshop. He would personally select each individual piece of timber for it’s unique characteristics, and he would be the one who would decide its destiny. For Nakashima, it was the responsibility of the woodworker to honor the soul of the tree, an ancient noble specimen that had given its life in order to live on with dignity not to become some common mass-produced trinket. Following in the footsteps of the fathers of the Arts and Crafts movement, Nakashima saw the role of machines “as an adjunct to handcraftsmanship.”

George Nakashima was born in Spokane Washington in 1905. The son of Japanese immigrants, Nakashima maintained close ties to his cultural beliefs and homeland, which inevitably played a large role in shaping his life philosophy as well as design aesthetic. Trained as an architect, Nakashima received his Masters in Architecture in 1929 from M.I.T. However, his short career as a practicing architect would be overshadowed by his woodworking legacy.

During a period from about 1927- 1940’s Nakashima traveled extensively. During his second visit to Japan, he apprenticed with a Japanese architect that was trained by Frank Lloyd Wright during the construction of the famed Imperial Hotel in Tokyo. This exposure to western style architecture and the philosophies of the Arts and Crafts movement had lasting influence on Nakashima. Another life changing experience was working as a representative of Antonin Raymond’s Architectural firm in Pondicherry, India. His introduction to the teachings of Sri Aurobindo in India had a profound effect on his life’s work.

Once enchanted by metropolitan centers such as Tokyo and Paris, the waste and squallier of industrialized cities eventually led him to reject these cultural centers. “There is no inspiration in our soulless cities, those great forests of steel.”

Recognizing the hostel environment in Japan and China, Nakashima decided to return to the United States just a year before the bombing of Pearl Harbor. In 1942 He and his wife were sent to a Japanese internment camp in Hunt, Idaho where he met a nisei, or second generation Japanese-American, woodworker. Much of his knowledge of the nature of wood was gained through this short encounter. Nakashima and his family, now a father of an infant girl, were sponsored for release by Antonin Raymond and were invited to stay on his farm in New Hope, Pennsilvaynia. New Hope became their new home and George established a modest workshop in an open shed on the farm and began his new career as a woodworker.

According to Derek Ostergard’s book, “Full Circle,” one of Nakashima’s most important contributions to American furniture was the “free edge,” which allowed the tree’s natural edge to define a piece’s form. The “free edge” employed by Nakashima should not be confused with the biomorphicism movement connected to the surrealists of the 1920’s and 1930’s. Ostergard writes that the biomorphic design’s “undulant forms and finished edges were solely man-made and had little to do with natural forms or materials.” However this style of manufactured furniture reached commercial success in the 1950’s around the same time Nakashima was himself gaining recognition for his innovations in furniture design.

Another trademark of Nakashima’s design was the bold use of the butterfly joint, sometimes referred to as a bowtie joint. This decorative joint allows for an elegant solution to reinforcing weak and cracked timbers. This design element became necessary in his work because of the imperfect and discarded timbers he chose to work with. Nakashima began this practice of what he called “ragpicking” in opposition to what he saw as the dishonorable treatment of fine lumber. In At One With Nature, he explains that the most desirable wood, selected for its fine grain and lack of “imperfections,” is destined to become strips of thin veneer used to decorate useless objects. His designs favored an elegance captured by the simplicity of lines and “uniqueness” of each timber hand selected for each piece. These cast-offs were no less beautiful to Nakashima; in fact they were the most desirable.

According to Nakashima “My greatest challenge was the creation of the Altar for Peace…” this commission installed in the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine, New York in 1989 consisted of two matched book walnut boards measuring 10’ x 10’. This massive solid wood table has a expansion and contraction rate of over I”.