Working with a reverence for his material that bordered on spiritual, woodworker and designer George Nakashima (1915-1990) created one of the more influential legacies in furniture in the 20th century. Cutting wood was like cutting diamonds, he once said, a philosophy reflected in his body of work, filled with intricate pieces that preserved and magnified the beauty of every knot and grain. He would often keep boards around his workshop in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, for years before they would reveal themselves to him.
Nakashima studied architecture at École Américaine des Beaux Arts and M.I.T. and began working in the ‘30s, at one point journeying to India to design an ashram. His work earned him the fitting Sanskrit name, Sundarananda ("one who delights in beauty"). He returned from overseas to set up shop in Seattle in the early ‘40s before, like other Japanese-Americans during WWII, he was interned by the government. While at Camp Minidoka in Idaho, Nakashima met a fellow internee who was a master Japanese craftsman, who taught him traditional practices and philosophies that informed his future work. His career blossomed after the war, when he began creating pieces for companies like Knoll and Widdicomb-Mueller, as well as his own custom work, such as a 200-piece collection for Nelson Rockefeller’s mansion. His reverence for nature and inner beauty was reflected in one of his last projects, a massive peace altar installed in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. His designs are still being made by his daughter and the staff at George Nakashima Woodworker.