George Nakashima

George Katsutoshi Nakashima (1905-1990) was a Japanese American woodworker, architect, and furniture maker who was one of the leading innovators of 20th century furniture design and a father of the American craft movement. Nakashima was born in Spokane, Washington. He enrolled in the University of Washington program in architecture, graduating in 1929. In 1931, after earning a Master's degree in architecture, Nakashima sold his car and purchased a round-the-world tramp steamship ticket. He spent a year in France, went on to North Africa and then Japan. There, Nakashima went to work for Antonin Raymond, an American architect who had collaborated with Frank Lloyd Wright on the Imperial Hotel. While working for Raymond, he toured Japan extensively, studying the subtleties of Japanese architecture and design. In 1937, Raymond's company was commissioned to build a dormitory at an ashram in Pondicherry, India for which Nakashima was the construction consultant. It was here that Nakashima made his first furniture. In 1940, he returned to America and began to teach woodworking and to make furniture in Seattle. Like others of Japanese ancestry, he was interned during the Second World War and sent to Camp Minidoka in Idaho in 1942. At the camp he met Gentaro Hikogawa, a man trained in traditional Japanese carpentry. Under his tutelage, Nakashima learned to master traditional Japanese hand tools and joinery techniques. In 1943, Raymond sponsored Nakashima's release from the camp and invited him to his farm in Pennsylvania. In his studio and workshop, Nakashima explored the organic expressiveness of wood, its knots, burls and figured grain. He designed furniture for Knoll and Widdicomb-Mueller. The studio grew until Nelson Rockefeller commissioned 200 pieces for his house in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., in 1973. In 1983, Nakashima accepted the Order of the Sacred Treasure, bestowed by the emperor of Japan. The George Nakashima House, Studio and Workshop was listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places in 2008. One of George Nakashima's workshops in Takamatsu City, Japan, currently houses a museum and gallery of his works. The Nakashima Foundation for Peace, housed in the Minguren Museum in New Hope, Pennsylvania, had its beginnings in 1984.