George Nakashima (1905-1990)
George Nakashima was born in Washington in 1905. He received a Bachelor’s Degree in architecture at the University of Washington and a Master’s from MIT in 1930, as well as the Prix Fontainebleau from L’Ecole Americaine des Beaux Arts in France in 1928. His work for the architect Antonin Raymond sent him to Pondicherry, India, where he discovered his second career as a furniture maker.
Confined at the Japanese-American internment in Minidoka, Idaho during World War II, Nakashima, his wife and infant daughter, Mira, were were released through the sponsorship of Raymond and settled in Bucks County, PA. There he created a body of work that incorporated Japanese design and shop practices, as well as Modernism – work that made his name synonymous with the best of 20th century Studio Craftsman furniture.
Nakashima believed that the tree and its wood dictated the piece it was to become. He elevated what others would see as imperfections: choosing boards with knots and burls and cracks, which he would enhance and stabilize with butterfly joints. He designed furnishings for sitting, dining, sleeping, working. While all his work is prized, his Frenchmen’s Cove and Conoid tables are most so, particularly when executed in exotic woods and with free 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 chairs and stools, named for his daughter, who now leads his shop and continues his design legacy.
While Nakashima’s philosophy did not embrace mass production, he did collaborate with Knoll from 1945-1954 and on the “Origins” line with Widdicomb-Mueller between 1957 and 1961.
Major commissions included furnishings for Nelson Rockefeller and Columbia university. His works are represented in the most important institutions in the world.
Among many awards from the AIA and other prestigious institutions, Nakashima received the Third Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Emperor and Government of Japan. He received the designation "Living Treasure" in the United States. He worked and exhibited until shortly before his death in June 1990, one week after receiving his final award, Alumnus Summa Laude Dignatus, from the University of Washington.