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The Woodworker of Ideals

The Woodworker of Ideals

George Nakashima in Rago’s September 2017 Modern Auctions

8 September 2017

“Each flitch, each board, each plank can have only one ideal use. The woodworker, applying a thousand skills, must find that ideal use and then shape the wood to realize its true potential.”

-George Nakashima

American furniture maker, woodworker and architect - George Nakashima is among the most celebrated and influential artists of the Studio Craft Furniture movement. Blending the minimal aesthetics of traditional Japanese design with streamlined functionality of Mid-Century Modernism, Nakashima created an exceptional body of work that has made his name synonymous with the best of 20th century design.

George Nakashima studied architecture at the University of Washington and M.I.T. Upon graduation, he traveled Europe and North Africa before finding work with the American architect Antonin Raymond on projects in Japan and India.

The influence of these globe-trotting early years, particularly those spent in Japan, would have a marked impact upon Nakashima’s creative odyssey.

Shortly after his return to the United States at the onset of World War II, George Nakashima, along with thousands of other Americans of Japanese ancestry, was interned. In 1943, Nakashima’s former employer, Antonin Raymond, secured his release and helped George, along with his wife Marion and infant daughter Mira, settle in the artistic community of New Hope, PA.

Nakashima Studio

George Nakashima believed that the tree, and not the craftsman, should dictate form and function. He elevated what others would consider imperfections: choosing boards with knots, burls and cracks, which he further enhanced and stabilize with his signature butterfly joints. While all of his work is prized, his Frenchmen’s Cove and Conoid tables are most so, particularly when executed in exotic woods and with free (natural) edges. Many of his designs are known by their distinctive bases: Conoid, Miguren, Trestle and Pyramid among them. He is also known for his Mira series of chairs and stools, named for his daughter, who now leads his shop and continues the family’s design legacy.

Centered in the heart of the Lambertville/New Hope artist colony, Rago Auctions pioneered the secondary market for furniture by the Nakashimas. Over the past 25 years, Rago Auctions has sold nearly 3,000 pieces of George Nakashima’s work and was the first to represent Mira Nakashima at auction. Our close working relationship with Nakashima Studios allows us to authenticate and, when needed, repair Mira and her father's pieces. We remain the single most dedicated auction source for work by the Nakashimas.

Our upcoming Modern Design Auctions on September 22 & 23 feature several fine examples of work by both George and Mira Nakashima, including pieces with strong forms fabricated from exceptional woods.

Lot 1322: George Nakashima; Mira Nakashima; Nakashima Studio; Fine transitional Minguren II coffee table, New Hope, PA, 1990. Estimate: $40,000 - $60,000.

This table was commissioned from George Nakashima in 1989 and completed by Mira Nakashima. The "sister" table, made from the same piece of Claro walnut burl, is now in the collection of the Michener Museum, Doylestown, PA.

Lot 1323: George Nakashima; Nakashima Studio; Fine Conoid bench, New Hope, PA, 1965. Estimate: $25,000 - $35,000

A perfect balance between sleek modernism and Nakashima’s traditional Japanese aesthetic – as at home in a rustic setting as an ultra-modern one.

Lot 1332 - George Nakashima; Nakashima Studio; Fine side table, New Hope, PA, 1975. Estimate: $22,500 - $27,500

This table exemplifies Nakashima’s use of tension – in this case between the organic slab top and the architectural base – to create a dramatic effect in his design.

Lot 1185 - George Nakashima; Nakashima Studio; Special Table Lamp, New Hope, PA, 1974. Estimate: $9,000 - $12,000

An exceptionally rare form; the first of its kind to be sold at Rago Auctions.

Learn more about George and Mira Nakashima, and the continuing Nakashima design legacy here.

View full catalogs for our September Auctions here.