Thinking, Working, Creating

Midweek and the fellows have some new pieces to offer. Rex is finishing work on his two smaller sculptures, finishing up carving and making a stand for his bird sculpture, Grant has pretty much completed his pieces and is now concentrating on his nicely crafted boxes to accompany his pieces, Adrien continues work on a new sculpture, sanding both by hand and with electricity. Zina is busy finishing her Mother and continuing to carve the landscape piece – which is another new experience for her because of the curved surfaces, and Julia is working hard planeing her door.

Julia's door's mouth.

Julia’s door’s mouth captures the moment.

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Zina carves a beautiful shape and line for her Mother piece.

Zina carves a beautiful shape and line for her Mother piece.

Zina's Mother sculpture piece. Taking her work from a spoon form to a sculptural form.

Zina’s Mother sculpture piece. Taking her work from a spoon form to a sculptural form.

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Rex’s base construction in the glueing stage.

The bleaching process.

The bleaching process.

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Adrien sands her individual pieces that when assembled become a sculptural piece.

Adrien sands her individual plywood shapes/pieces.

Adrien's elaborate numbering system for her plywood pieces that when assembled become a cohesive piece.

Adrien’s elaborate numbering system for her plywood pieces that when assembled become a cohesive sculptural piece.

Adrien Segal: On Skill

AdrienWeb1Adrien Segal is a data sculptor, which means precisely what it suggests. In her hands, commonplace climate measurements yield sumptuous forms, often in carved plywood, which conveys in its figurative stratigraphy the ebb and flow of nature. The digital sophistication of her process, wherein Segal translates large data sets into contour lines that are then mapped onto and cut from plywood, can nettle traditional wood artists. As Segal explains it, they think that “you just push a button and it cuts it out for you.” And yet, as she points out, one need look no further than Auguste Rodin to discover that the mathematical extrapolation of data points onto sculptural molds is a time-honored tradition. It’s just one in an arsenal of skills that Segal deploys toward making art that matters. “Data [is] just a resource,” Segal explains, “for … creating narratives about the time and place in which we live.”

Segal’s path to data sculpture began in the furniture program at the California College of the Arts. While there, she was captivated by the ruins of Sutra Baths, built over a century before along the beach beneath San Francisco’s famous Cliff House resort. She was also inspired by data visualization pioneer, Edward Tufte, whose work encouraged her to imagine how the tidal action at Sutra Baths might be rendered in wood. Segal pored over Bay Area tide charts and replicated their data patterns in ribbons of bent steel arrayed across a walnut table. The result was Segal’s thesis project which, as she recalls, was “really well received,” and sold soon thereafter to a collector.


[Click here to hear Segal discuss nature and process.]

The economic calamities of 2008, however, conspired against aspiring wood artists. Segal scraped together a living variously making cabinets and waiting tables. Internships, artist residencies, and work trades sustained her along the way, and introduced her to Oakland’s Crucible industrial arts school where she’s currently headquartered. Her fascination with data sculpture flourished all the while. In 2012, Segal exhibited in Marfa, Texas along with other prominent data artists. The show earned her national attention and brought Segal into a small circle of fellow travelers, including Loren Madsen, who pioneered data sculpture during the 1970s. Madsen identifies Segal as one of a very few young data artists working today in three dimensions.


[Click here to hear Segal discuss skill.]

And yet, Segal is quick to assert that she’s not interested in art for art’s sake. “What is the point,” she asks, “of making art that doesn’t question bigger ideas about our time?” The idea that Segal is most concerned to question is the tendency in science to conceive of humans and nature as distinct. According to her, “we are a part of the environment and intrinsically tied to it.” Segal’s distinctive digital technique therefore aims to blur the line between our experience of nature and nature itself. But digitization is “just another tool,” according to Segal. “You have to … keep learning new skills.” Segal’s quest for skill speaks to the difficulty of her work, and the rigor of her vision. It also betrays a furniture maker’s pragmatism: “you can always rely on those skills,” she reminds us, ”to make functional things.”

By Seth C. Bruggeman, The Center for Art in Wood’s 2015 Windgate ITE International Resident Fellow Scholar.

And Still More

Remarkably the fellows are still making more work. Every day seems to bring more pieces to the shop tables. So many ideas, so little time. At the beginning, time passed slowly and now that the end of the fellowship approaches, time flies by as the fellows’ hands make many movements and assorted sounds in their creation process.

Julia's wooden paint brushes actually work.

Julia’s wooden paint brushes actually work.

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More treats from Julia.

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Jay, Grant and Julia enjoy a good laugh together.

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Grant’s Strata piece on top of his homemade shipping box (obviously not for this piece).

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And yet the beginning of another Rex piece. It will be the brother to the one standing. It always begins with a drawing. Rex does many drawings with books filled with ideas.

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Sketching the form.

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And next the bandsaw.

Things to Come

It’s only been two days since I have been in the wood shop. It is incredible what the fellows have produced so far. Today they are gathering their works, deciding on prices, and where to concentrate their energies over the next six days before everything is brought to the gallery. The sawdust thickens!

Here are some sneak previews of things to come.

A small view of Winifred's final installation piece that involves new world technologies and old world ingredients.

A small view of Winifred’s final installation piece that involves new world technologies and old world ingredients.


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Jay Cox turns the 22″ disc for my installation piece.

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Details of Julia’s work.

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Wood that speaks for itself.

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Julia’s work table is filling up!

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The wood really does speak to her.

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Zina’s lovely work is continuing to evolve into her final pieces.


The Zina and Adrien collaborative landscape now has drawing on it by Adrien. Ready for Zina to carve.


Sending final information about their work to Karen at The Center.


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Detail of Grant’s new piece – lots of textural carving.

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Some of Rex’s pieces and models assembled together.

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Details of individual elements of Rex’ work.

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A new Rex piece was made over the weekend.

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The collaborative Zina/Rex  furry vessel piece now has a stand.

Drawing and almost finished bird piece.

Drawing and almost finished bird piece.

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Detail of Adrien piece.

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Adrien has added another work to her sculpture pieces

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Jack Larimore Visits the Fellows

The fellows were happy to meet wood artist, past UArts teacher, and all around great guy, Jack Larimore. Jack supplied the pizza and lots of good conversations ensued about what the fellows’ experiences have been and what they expect for the future. Nice time was had by all!

Grant , Rex and Jack enjoy a talk around the pizza table.

Grant , Rex and Jack enjoy a talk around the pizza table.

Rex shows Jack his preliminary sketch and the almost completed work.

Rex shows Jack his preliminary sketch done weeks ago and the almost completed work.

Grant and Jack discuss his piece.

Grant and Jack discuss his piece.

Zina shows one of her pieces to Jack and wife Helen.

Zina discussing the collaborative piece being done between her and Adrien to Jack and wife Helen.

Julia and Jack

Julia and Jack

Working working working

As expected, the Fellows are working hard to get their ideas and pieces closer to their completion date of August 3. Julia’s door’ pipe clamps have been removed. She is sketching in wood an idea for the door. Adrien continues on her quest for the perfect surface for her wood model piece for a possible large-scale outdoor bench. Grant forges ahead with his double disc piece which he has decided to add texture to – untypical of his work. Rex continues to be gung-ho on carving his huge bird sculpture. And Zina is finishing work on four pieces at the moment: the furry vessel, untitled landscape, mother and child, and fish and chips.

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Zina Manesā-Burloiu: On Risk

zinaweb1If we accept David Pye’s oft-stated claim that risk is an index of workmanship, then Zina Manesā-Burloiu easily ranks among the most accomplished of wood artists. The dazzling swirls of hand-chipped facets and micro perforations that characterize her work epitomize Pye’s notion that risk inheres in the abandonment of guides and other tools of standardization. And yet, Manesā-Burloiu has risked considerably more than imprecision on her path to becoming an internationally known wood artist. Coming up amid the twilight of Romanian Communism created unique opportunities for the artist, but also confronted her with considerable challenges. Through it all, Manesā-Burloiu has kept close her faith in destiny and a love for wood and tradition imparted by her family.

Manesā-Burloiu first encountered wood carving as a young girl in rural Romania, where she carved intricate geometrical patterns into the soft bark of tender walnut shoots. Though mere “play,” in her words, passing time this way amid the slow pace and scarcity of Communist-era village life honed her attention to detail. “Tradition,” she recalls,”was more important because of the way of life.” A traditional agrarian life, however, was not what Manesā-Burloiu wanted for herself. Mechanically inclined and with a talent for math, she left home at age thirteen to study engineering in the city. Manesā-Burloiu supported herself through high school and, later, university, by working mornings in a truck factory and studying by night. It was in the factory, in fact, where Manesā-Burloiu learned to make edged tools like the carving knives she uses today. It was one step toward a career she had not yet imagined.


[Click here to hear Manesā-Burloiu discuss her work.]

And then came 1989. Romania’s leaders succumbed that year to the wave of revolution that would topple Communism throughout much of the world. Manesā-Burloiu reached out to an uncle who had spent decades imprisoned by the old regime. He had mastered traditional Romanian wood carving techniques while in prison and, after the revolution, Manesā-Burloiu became fascinated by his work. “I fell in love with his house and his carving,” she recalls, “I wanted to do that too.” Her uncle chafed at first, resisting the notion that women should carve. But soon Manesā-Burloiu was helping him with his work and, in turn, learning her art from a master craftsman.

Manesā-Burloiu began showing her work—including spoons, cups, egg holders, and candle sticks—at Romanian craft fairs, though a corrupt jury system and relentless traditionalism frustrated her. ”I was almost at the point [of] giving up wood carving.” And then, in 1997, destiny intervened. Albert LeCoff had been searching for traditional Romanian wood turners and discovered Manesā-Burloiu’s uncle through an acquaintance. LeCoff invited him to visit the United States on behalf of the Center for Art in Wood, and to bring Manesā-Burloiu along as a translator. When the two arrived, however, LeCoff was surprised to discover that neither were actually wood turners. And yet, their work was so impressive, LeCoff sponsored their participation in a host of events. Before long, Manesā-Burloiu was in conversation with the nation’s leading wood artists, and developing a reputation of her own. “It was a mistake,” she says, “that changed my life.”


[Click here to hear Manesā-Burloiu discuss her method.]

It was not, however, a change without risk. In 2001, despite the vagaries of Romania’s fragile economy, Manesā-Burloiu left her factory job to pursue wood art full time. “Making a living from [wood carving] is my dream,” she says, “but when you live it, it is not so easy.” The market for wood art in Romania, for instance, forces Manesā-Burloiu to be more stylistically traditional than she’d like. Travel presents challenges too. Manesā-Burloiu had planned on being in residence at the Center during 2013, but was delayed for two years by a visa mishap. Now that she’s here, Manesā-Burloiu admits that “Philadelphia is the love of my life!” For her, the city is a place of inspiration and transformation. And the ITE residency, she explains, ensures both.

For more, see David Pye, “The Workmanship of Risk and the Workmanship of Certainty,” in The Nature and Art of Workmanship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968).

By Seth C. Bruggeman, The Center for Art in Wood’s 2015 Windgate ITE International Resident Fellow Scholar.

New Pieces are Evolving By the Minute

The fellows had another full day carving, clamping, cutting, glueing, sanding, sculpting…Many new pieces are appearing in the wood shop with finishing work being done on pieces already begun. Julia is making a door with beautiful carving, Rex continues to work on his large bird sculpture – making lots of noise. Adrien is busy carving and sanding her piece, Zina is working steadily on her many pieces one-by-one, and Grant concentrated on things outside the wood shop today.


Jay and Julia lay out boards and discuss what happens next.

Next step glueing the splined boards.

Next step glueing the splined boards.

Boards are secured and clamped after glueing. Julia makes sure boards are same height.

Boards are secured and clamped after glueing. Julia makes sure boards are same height.

Walking on a high point.

Walking on a high point.

Detail of carved area.

Detail of carved area.

Adrien continues sanding her piece into the exact shape she wants on her sculpture.

Adrien continues sanding her piece into the exact shape she wants on her sculpture.


Adrien consults her model.

Adrien consults her model.


Back to sanding.


On to the

Cutting cutting cutting sculpting sculpting sculpting

Rex carving with the sander.

Rex carving with the sander.

Rex uses the chainsaw to carve away on his sculpture.

Rex uses the chainsaw to carve away unwanted wood on his sculpture.

Zina teaches Julia new carving techniques.

Zina teaches Julia new carving techniques.

Zina gathers her work. More work to do.

Zina gathers her work together. More work to do.

Possibly a new piece.

Possibly a new piece.

Lots of Sawdust on the Floor

If you came to the UArts Wood shop this week, you would be watching many active hands and have to shuffle through lots of sawdust. The fellows continue their daily work on completing their pieces. Their working hours vary. Rex is a real night owl – who tends to come in later in the day and work until all hours of the night. Grant likes to come into the shop very early in the morning and leave at 6:00pm. Zina, Julia and Adrien come in half way between morning and lunch and stay until various hours.

And I come in anywhere between 11am and 11pm. Trying my best to capture all the stages of the fellows creative processes.

What is going on is very exciting!

Rex in the middle of his newest piece ready to be glued.

Rex in the middle of his newest piece ready to be glued.

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Glueing the parts to be clamped to assemble piece.

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Checking the clamps to make sure pressure is evenly distributed.

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A master construction piece.

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Grant Takes away some interior to make the pieces match up perfectly when placed face to face.

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Grant checks out his shaving work on the two discs.

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Zina turns her bowl piece

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Cutting out her mother for Mother and Child piece.

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Adrien sanding her newest sculpture. Lots of sanding noise.

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Many more sounds in the Wood Shop

The fellows are working around the clock now to finish their ideas, and begin possible new works. The shop is humming with an assortment of sounds. Julia is trimming large pieces of wood, gouging and carving other works, while Rex works on a large scale piece and smaller works collaborating with Zina, Adrien has a new sculpture underway which she is glueing, Grant has two new round pieces underway, and Zina is working on several pieces including a turned piece.

Julia trims wood for her new work.

Julia trims wood for her new work.

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Carving the hand bowl.

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Some finishing gouge work on the Rex-Zina collaborative fury legged vessel.

Jay helps Rex trim one of the sections for his large sculpture.

Jay helps Rex trim one of the sections for his large sculpture.

Rex in the middle of his newest piece ready to be glued.

Rex in the middle of his newest piece ready to be glued.

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The model for the large piece in progress.

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Grant shaving his new work.

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Adrien working on a new piece.

Adrien working on a new piece. Glueing the right piece in place cut from her paper drawing which comes from her model.

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A new piece evolving.

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Finished and unfinished Zina works . The circular piece in background waits to be turned.

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Collaboration beginnings between Zina and Adrien.

Finishing work on the black walnut river piece.

Zina doing some finishing work on her black walnut river piece.

Drawing the next piece.

Drawing the next piece.

Fellows Adrien Segal and Julia Harrison Critique Work

Both Adrien and Julia were invited by the UArts MFA program to give lectures and critiques of the MFA candidates work.

Julia Harrison gave her lecture at 12:30 on June 30th.

Adrien Segal’s lecture and critiques took place on July 16th.

Since most of the audience were MFA students, Julia focused her talk on the most valuable lessons that she’s learned since leaving school, along with using images of her work as illustrations. Julia stated, “It was probably a bit advice-heavy, but since these are things I’ve learned the hard way, I like to share them when I can!” She then met with six students to offer one-on-one critiques; the range of work was engagingly broad, from painting to carving to installation.

AdrienPortrait Julia portrait

Julia Harrison: On Looking

IMG_4216Look long enough at Julia Harrison’s work and you may feel like you’re staring. That is, in fact, precisely the point. Harrison explains (click here to listen) that “the act of looking really hard at another person to try to figure out what the hell they are thinking or feeling or talking about is a universal thing.” It’s a theme most immediately evident in the pursed lips and oblique eyes that appear specimen-like in Harrison’s hand-carved brooches and wall sculptures. Though these pieces invite our gaze, the ambiguity of their expressions unsettle us into considering what it means to look and to be looked at. “The specifics are different,” she adds, but “the grasping for understanding is everywhere.”

The playful reflexivity of Harrison’s fanciful body parts reveals a mingling of art and anthropology. Professionally, Harrison wears both hats. She was inspired early on to study the anthropology of craft, but was frustrated by the tendency of ethnographers to ignore processes by which objects get made. A two-year stint studying traditional needlework among Minnesota’s Hmong refugees allowed Harrison to explore linkages between craft technique and the rhythms of daily life. The experience was formative, and it encouraged Harrison to turn her anthropological lens on another favorite topic: sweets. In recent years, she has blogged, mapped, and exhibited research into the complex web of cultural forces that sustain our global appetite for sugary foods and fantastic confections.

jweb2[Click here to hear Harrison discuss looking.]

Looking also figured prominently in Harrison’s path to wood art. Although formally trained as a metal artist, Harrison warmed to carving wood while studying conservation science in England. Previous experiences with basswood had been unsatisfying, but carving small objects from aged boxwood was different: “I could get it to hold all of these tiny details.” Harrison next traveled to Japan, boxwood in tow, and acquired tools suitable for working in a small apartment. She recalls being surrounded by Japanese wood art. “My first teacher was just going and looking at things … and trying to imagine, if this is what the carving looks like now, what kind of shaped block would it have come out of.” Learning by looking enabled Harrison to engage Japanese artisans through careful acts of observation.

jweb1[Click here to hear Harrison discuss materials.]

Years of travel explain the prevalence of small objects in Harrison’s body of work. “I had to have things that were really really small, really durable [and] I had to figure out ways of making things more engineered than they look.” Even more significantly, Harrison explains, she had to learn to work “subtractively.” “Even if I was having a bad day … I could look at those wood chips and think … at the very least it’s getting more portable.” The press of travel, however, has preserved within Harrison’s work a material record of the artist’s journey. Bits of wood gathered here and there “become part of the story,” she says. And new places invite new techniques. Turned paintbrushes and miniature dirigibles highlight Harrison’s run with the lathe in Philadelphia. New directions for an artist who is always looking.

By Seth C. Bruggeman, The Center for Art in Wood’s 2015 Windgate ITE International Resident Fellow Scholar.

Grant Vaughan: On Place

“When I’m thinking about things to do,” explains Grant Vaughan, “I’ll go for a walk in the bush.” He doesn’t have far to walk. Vaughan hails from New South Wales, Australia, where he lives on eighty-five acres of bushland. Although his work has shifted over the years, variously between sculpture and furniture making, all of it in someway bears the imprint of Vaughan’s love for the landscape that surrounds him. Most telling in this regard are the loping spheres and crisp edges that unfold like leaves from his carvings.


[Click here to hear Grant Vaughan discuss his early work.]

Vaughan grew up amid the scattering of small towns west of Australia’s Great Dividing Range. Though he briefly studied engineering and architecture at the University of Sydney during the 1970s, the swirl of excitement surrounding Australia’s burgeoning youth counterculture lured Vaughan away from school and deep into the Northern Rivers region of New South Wales. It was there that he first experimented with wood carving and furniture making, despite having no formal training. “I had my plane blade in upside down for twelve months!” But with time, and guidance from an early mentor, Vaughn began hand-carving organic forms in tables and mirrors, all inspired by his fascination with nature and a taste for Art Nouveau.

All the while, a revival of interest in hand-crafted furniture had created new opportunities for wood artists in Australia. Vaughan joined the Woodworkers Group of New South Wales and began showing his work regularly throughout Sydney, including at a landmark show in the Sydney Opera House. “That went really well,” he recalls, “I was getting so much work, I couldn’t keep up with it.” Vaughan’s success inspired new creative directions, including a bowl he carved for the Opera House show that prompted a flurry of interest throughout the international woodworking community. Furniture, however, remained Vaughan’s mainstay for many years and sustained him with commissions, including for an elaborate set of exhibit cases showcased in Austrailia’s Parliament House.


[Click here to hear Grant Vaughan discuss tools.]

Vaughan’s late return to carving owes, in part, to a broadening appreciation of his work in American galleries during the last decade. It’s a shift that he understands within the context of global economies. Sydney’s emergence as Asia Pacific’s financial center has shifted tastes among Australian collectors while raising real threats to the the landscape that nourishes Vaughan’s work. So, though encouraged abroad, working away from home creates real challenges for someone so powerfully influenced by place. “You need to get away,” as he puts it, to “do other things, and come back with a new perspective.” And yet, Vaughan brightens when he speaks about his land and the hundred species of trees he’s discovered there. “Understanding the landscape,” he says, is “about being informed about what you’re looking at.” It’s a conviction that applies just as well to Vaughan’s work and that, in many ways, explains it.

By Seth C. Bruggeman, The Center for Art in Wood’s 2015 Windgate ITE International Resident Fellow Scholar.

Fellows Visit George Nakashima Studio

We traveled out to the beautiful environs of New Hope, PA, to visit the studio, showroom, finishing department, Peace House and guest house of gifted wood sculptor George Nakashima. His friendly daughter, Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, gave us a wonderful guided tour about the history of George’s creative development, his architectural achievements, his designs, his awards, and his personal experiences that he had growing up in the United States. We had a wonderful day touring the lovely grounds and learning all about George. Mira has continued her father’s legacy by creating wonderful work of her own.

She worked by her father’s side for twenty years as his assistant and collaborator, and is now the creative director of the studio.

Mira guides the studio which continues to produce her father’s designs and designs she developed using his techniques and philosophies.

Our begins with Mira Nakashima-Yarnall recounting some of her father's history to us.

Our tour begins with Mira recounting some of her father’s history to us.

Over to the enormous wood supply barn where wood is dried before use.

Grant and Mira in front of the enormous wood supply barn where wood is dried before use. Many pieces of wood were unwanted by wood suppliers as unusable. But George thought otherwise.

Introductions with Mira's son and other tour guests from Kalamazoo, MI.

Introductions with Mira’s son and other tour guests from Kalamazoo, MI.

Julia Harrison checks out the amazing wood selection.

Julia Harrison checks out the amazing wood selection.

Mira discusses George' work with the group - which can be found around the world.

Mira discusses George’ work with the group and asks Grant, Zina and Julia what they do with wood ?

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Seats designed for the Rockefellors. The seat cover in foreground designed by George and made in Japan, was rejected because it did not compliment the Rockefellor’s Chinese collection.

Julia puts her shoes back on as we exit the guest house.

Julia puts her shoes back on as we exit the traditional Japanese guest house.

Entering the Peace House.

Entering the Minguren Museum built to exhibit George’s good friend Ben Shahn’s work. Only to have Ben pass away a year later. The mosaic wall was created in Paris in 8′ panels.

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Interior of Minguren Museum.

Interior of Minguren Museum.

George and Ben.

George and Ben.

Zina admires the beautiful bookcase in the showroom.

Zina admires the beautiful bookcase in the showroom.

Grant, Zina and Julia talk about the objects.

Grant, Zina and Julia talk about the George walnut table and chair which are resting one of his rug designs – now being produced and sold.

In the Finishing Shop. Mira points out the floor with 50 years of tung oil and foot traffic.

In the Finishing Shop. Mira points out the floor with over 40 years of tung oil and foot traffic.

Julia photographs the 40 year old tung oil pot.

Julia photographs the 40 year old tung oil pot.

End of the tour photo with Winifred, Zina , Mira, Julia, and Grant.

End of the tour photo with Winifred, Zina , Mira, Julia, and Grant.