Day 34: Nakashima

Saturday morning we piled once more into the van to head up to Bucks County…this time to visit the Nakashima workshop in New Hope. We were there for the monthly tour, given by the current head and guiding light of the workshop, Mira Nakashima.

It was her father George who from the late 1940’s to his death in 1990, developed one of the most distinctive and respected voices in twentieth century furniture. He was equally individual as an architect, and all of the buildings on the nine acre property were designed and built by him. It’s a monument to George Nakashima in the very best sense, not a museum, but the home of a living tradition. Nakashima sought classic design that brought out the life of the timber he used.The harmony, from the smallest item of furniture through the architectural spaces to the landscape itself, has to be experienced to be believed. It shows what is possible when intelligence and respect for material combine at the highest level.

George himself was a second generation Japanese American, trained as a modernist architect. These different influences can be clearly felt in his work, but at the level of deep structure rather than style, and he looked for the consonances between traditions rather than the display of any kind of personality in his work.

The pictures here are a little sparse…in view of the numerous plagiarists of his work, interior shots are discouraged, and, well, your assistant scribe got a little too caught up in the tour itself to take many pictures. Included are a couple of shots from the Renwick of the Nakashima table there that caught our attention those weeks ago. So, why use this combination of elements to hold the top up? Why does the floor beam have a curved top and slanted ends…why does the vertical board taper towards the floor…? Because it’s pretty much perfect that way…

This is the Minguren Museum, built in 1964-5 by Nakashima, and using a curved plywood shell roof.

This is the Minguren Museum, built in 1964-5 by Nakashima, and using a curved plywood shell roof.

Mira Nakashima gave us the tour, taking time out from running the workshop and developing new designs in the spirit of her father's work. The wall behind her has mural from a drawing by Nakashima's close friend, Ben Shahn.

Mira Nakashima gave us the tour, taking time out from running the workshop and developing new designs in the spirit of her father’s work. The wall behind her has a mural from a drawing by Nakashima’s close friend, Ben Shahn.

This view from the showroom verandah gives a good idea of the gently wooded location. One of the outstanding features of the site is the way building and landscape, inside and outside, relate to each other.

This view from the showroom verandah gives a good idea of the gently wooded location. One of the outstanding features of the site is the way building and landscape, inside and outside, relate to each other.

This is the back of the Conoid Studio, Nakashima's largest shell roof, cast in concrete in 1957, technically a hyperbolic paraboloid. This view shows the sine wave pattern which gives extra strength to the 40' x 40' roof.

This is the back of the Conoid Studio, Nakashima’s largest shell roof, cast in concrete in 1957, technically a hyperbolic paraboloid. This view shows the sine wave pattern which gives extra strength to the 40′ x 40′ roof.

The Nakashima table we found on display in the Renwick in Washington. The natural edge top and butterfly re-inforcement are both Nakashima signatures, though often imitated..

The Nakashima table we found on display in the Renwick in Washington. The natural edge top and butterfly re-inforcement are both Nakashima signatures, though often imitated..

But for this writer it's the supporting structure of round strut, tapered board and curved and angled base beam that make it really exceptional whether seen as sculpture or design.

But for this writer it’s the supporting structure of round strut, tapered board and curved and angled base beam that make it really exceptional whether seen as sculpture or design.

But hey! Enough already with the aesthetics! Ben discovers the Nakashima timber store, surely one of the most impressive assemblies of ready-to go-timber you could see anywhere...burls and crotches abound...

But hey! Enough already with the aesthetics! Ben discovers the Nakashima timber store, surely one of the most impressive assemblies of ready-to go-timber you could see anywhere…burls and crotches abound…

So Ben and Neil act out what they'd do if they could get their hands on just some of it....

So Ben and Neil act out what they’d do if they could get their hands on just some of it….

2 thoughts on “Day 34: Nakashima

  1. Super post. Brought back memories of Kelsey doing that Nakashima piece in Fine Woodworking, lo, those many years ago, and how the incident of that piece of journalism has come to define the word “deadline” in my life.

  2. Yes, indeed….one of my favorite places to visit is the Nakashima home site, workshop..the entire property melts together so perfectly. I was lucky, I felt to leave with a butterfly reinforcement piece, directly from one of the workers to symbolize this ingenuity and my appreciation for Nakashima’s natural/free edge pieces. Thank you for sharing your pictures. It brought back pleasant memories.

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