George Nakashima

George Nakashima is one of the most influential contemporary woodworkers of all time. A Japanese-American architect and furniture maker, he has inspired generations of woodworkers. His signature work celebrates the organic, individualist nature of wood. His large live edge table tops embrace the rough wild nature of natural edges, crevices and cracks, highlighting the figure of the wood with simple, beautiful finishing and expert butterfly joinery.

Working with large, raw, live edged slabs takes mastery of tools and joinery techniques, but also a willingness to allow the shape of the wood itself to determine the final product. Nakashima often combined multiple slabs, with their cracks and edges intact, and connected them with butterfly joints. By working with the idea that wood is a creation of nature, he highlighted what to many would have been flaws, making them into the focus of his art. George Nakashima embraced the perpetual motion of the medium, reminding us that the medium was actually a living, breathing piece of the earth brought to use.

Nakashima’s most enduring and important works are the Altars for Peace he created from two very special Eastern Black Walnut trees. His intention was to create a table for each of the seven continents and provide a physical focus for global peace. The huge trunks arrived at his Pennsylvania studio and he wrote of them, "In a small but firm voice, [it] asked to be realized" as an Altar for Peace. "It will be a symbol, a token of man's aspirations for a creative and beautiful peace, free of political overtones; an expression of love for his fellow man. We have become so basically disoriented with our blind faith in science and technology without spirituality, it has brought us to the pit of madness." (George Nakashima’s original design sketches: On a snowy January day, Nakashima hired a sawyer, and boule cut the first tree. (See the amazing photos of the actual cutting) He bookmatched two of the center cuts to create the first Altar, a 12’ x 12’ table.

The first table was installed in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City in 1986. A second table was built to celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations in 1995 and was blessed at the same cathedral, before being installed for the celebration of The Hague Appeal for Peace in May of 1999. Its home is now the Russian Academy of Art in Moscow. The third table was sent to Unity Pavilion of the "City of Peace" Auroville in South India. Donations are being taken for the creating of a forth Altar with the intention of installing it in Capetown, South Africa at the Desmond Tutu Peace Center for the continent of Africa.

Regard and knowledge of Nakashima’s style and philosophy have grown exponentially. There is increasing appreciation for the art of working within the limits of natural wood, its grain, grace, and color, allowing the life of the tree to shine though while creating both a work of art and a useable piece of furniture.

Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, George’s daughter, a master woodworker herself, lives at the Nakashima studio in New Hope, PA. The studio still creates the original George Nakashima designs as well as Mira’s own Keisho Collection. Nakashima studio is a center for exhibitions, concerts, classes and tours, as well as still being a busy woodshop. Many of the craftsmen practicing their art here were trained by George.

April 09, 2019 — Alana Mace