In 1929, George Nakashima studied at the Ecole Américaine des Beaux-Arts in Fontainebleau following the completion of his degree in architecture from the University of Washington. At this time, European architects such as Le Corbusier were overseeing a radically different approach to architecture. Nakashima has recalled visiting the construction site of the Pavillon Suisse for the Cité Internationale Universitaire, almost daily during his time in Paris. Raised on pillars, the concrete structure achieves a weightlessness also seen in Nakashima’s furniture. Like Corbusier, the ostensible simplicity of Nakashima’s creations are underscored by a precise attention to design. The Conoid chair, for example, is supported on two legs alone, with long feet and angled stiles supporting a cantilevered plank seat.
George Nakashima and his family were interned during WWII at a relocation camp in Idaho. There, Nakashima met Gentaro Hikogawa, a carpenter who worked with Nakashima to design and build furniture for their humble dwellings at the camp. Hikogawa taught Nakashima the use of traditional Japanese hand tools and construction techniques that did not involve screws or nails for support. Nakashima’s furniture is defined by the use of exposed dovetails and butterfly joints, highlighting the structural integrity of each work. He also drew inspiration from American shaker design, an aesthetic stripped down to essential structural elements alone.
George Nakashima felt a deep reverence toward the natural world, specifically the forests and the trees. These living structures beckoned to Nakashima and he saw himself as a protector of their heritage, literally and figuratively rooted in a history that spanned several centuries. Nakashima’s philosophy was influenced by Sri Aurobindo, an Indian philosopher and poet with whom he studied while in Pondicherry, India overseeing the design and construction of the Golconde Dormitory for the Sri Aurobindo Ashram. Nakashima’s furniture serves the tree and the divine, creating something of lasting beauty in which the soul of the tree is expressed forevermore.
Works by George Nakashima to be offered in the March 20 Art + Design Auction: Lot 95: Conoid Chair, 1986. Estimate $3,000-5,000; Lot 89; Conoid Cross-Legged Desk, 1986. Estimate $15,000-25,000; Lot 1: Long Chair, 1968. Estimate $30,000-50,000