“This Early Minguren II Table is from a parcel of magnificent English oak burl logs my father purchased in London, and it was built at the unusual height of 22 3/8” in 1965. In 1968, my father had his first show in Japan, and later named this form Minguren after his associates there, but this table predated that show and may have been an early prototype. It proudly stood off to one side beneath a window of the Lifschutzes' living room in Princeton.”
Phyllis and Seymour Lifschutz and the Nakashima Family
by Mira Nakashima
Seymour Lifschutz was a physician who lived in an apartment above his office in New Brunswick, NJ, and began furnishing his office with Nakashima in the 1950s. Phyllis, his wife, loved, appreciated, and collected art of all kinds, had studied art, and was a fine painter herself. They had a daughter, Lorie, who went into interior design, and a son named William who went into beekeeping in Oregon and still resides there.
Seymour and Phyllis had a number of special pieces designed and made for their upstairs apartment in New Brunswick, including a very long cabinet made in three parts beneath a picture window in their living room, and an East Indian laurel dining table similar to the one my father made for Nelson Rockefeller. Soon their entire house was furnished in Nakashima, but as New Brunswick was not as pleasant a place to live as it had been, they moved to the Princeton area. After much searching, they found a house into which everything fit, including the long cabinet which had to be stacked, rather than placed side-by-side as they were originally.
My cousin, John Terry Nakashima, interviewed Phyllis in the Nakashima documentary. She spoke fondly of my father, recalling how she would let him choose the best piece of wood and design the best piece of furniture for each spot in their house, and remarking on how pleased and surprised they were when the furniture finally arrived and fit perfectly into their intended spaces. Unlike many other clients, Phyllis and Seymour respected the artist’s judgement, and because my father liked them, he would often give them choice pieces of wood he refused to sell to other clients. When I was very young, my parents would take us all to a New York City doctor they trusted but, after getting to know Dr. Lifschutz, we all went to him for our yearly check-ups for many years.
My parents became good friends with the Lifschutzes and they would often invite us over to their house. Phyllis was an excellent cook, and they had many other interesting friends. They would also come to visit us, especially after the Reception House was built, and my mother or father would cook for them. After my parents both died, they unofficially adopted my husband, Jon, and me and would invite us to join them at their favorite Chinese restaurant or to share a beautiful meal at their home in Princeton. Seymour once told us that my mother had a vision of “the world according to Marion” and it was a relief to know that someone besides me recognized this part of my mother’s personality. In addition to purchasing many pieces of special furniture for their home, they took very good care of it, as there are order records for over 50 pints of rubbing oil!
In Situ: The Lifschutz Nakashima Collection
Video courtesy of John Terry Nakashima. Copyright 2021 Nakashima Documentaries, LLC.
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 was born in Spokane, Washington in 1905. He received a Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Washington in 1929 and a Master of Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1931, as well as the Prix Fontainebleau from L’Ecole Americaine des Beaux Arts in France in 1928. He moved back to Paris briefly in 1934, after which he moved to Tokyo to work for architect Antonin Raymond, where he was exposed to the Japanese folk art tradition. His work for Raymond sent him to Pondicherry, India, where he discovered his second career as a furniture maker. While there, he designed and supervised the construction of Golconde, a dormitory for Sri Aurobindo Ashram.
In 1940, Nakashima returned to the United States to start a family with his new wife, Marion Okajima, and the couple soon had their first child, Mira. They had settled in Seattle, Washington, and like many of Japanese ancestry living on the west coast, the Nakashimas were sent to an internment camp in Idaho during WWII. While Nakashima was there he made furniture from whatever pieces of wood he could find and learned techniques of Japanese woodworking from others stationed at the camp, including a skilled woodworker named Gentaro Hikogawa. After nearly a year at the camp, in 1943, Antonin Raymond successfully petitioned for the family’s release, which prompted their relocation to New Hope, Pennsylvania. Living on the Raymond farm, it wasn’t before long until Nakashima began making furniture once again and, in 1945, opened his furniture and woodworking studio.
On Nakashima’s property, he designed the family’s quarters, the woodshop, and many out buildings, including an arboretum. 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, and working. While all his work is prized, his Frenchman’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, and 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.
Auction Results George Nakashima