A review of an exhibition of George Nakashima's work, "A Master's Furniture and Philosophy," at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific and American Experience through Jan. 20, 2013.

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The architect, furniture designer and father of the American Craft movement George Nakashima died in 1990, but his pieces continue to be acclaimed for their style and beauty.

A comprehensive exhibit of his craftsmanship, now at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, includes examples of his furniture and architectural drawings, as well as photographs. Together they offer a survey of his life’s work as well as insights into the man himself.

Born in Spokane and schooled in architecture at the University of Washington, he felt a strong connection with the natural world and developed a deep reverence for wood. He admired its texture, innate patterning and raw beauty.

After receiving his master’s degree at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the 1930s, he traveled around the world refining his aesthetic sense and gathering new ideas. Stays in France gave him insight into the designs of Le Corbusier. In Japan, he marveled at the joinery and sophisticated design achieved by Japanese woodworkers. In India, at an ashram, he experienced a new spiritual awakening.

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Considering himself “a citizen of the world,” he returned to the United States with greater passion to celebrate the beauty of wood. Gradually he gave up architecture and devoted all his talent to furniture making.

On exhibit are his elegant tables with their signature “live” edges. Where other furniture makers cut away the uneven, outside edge of the wood, he made it an integral part of the table. Where others saw flaws in wood, he saw natural beauty and capitalized on it. The “butterfly gate” piece (by his daughter, Mira, who is carrying on his work as well as designing her own) exemplifies how knots, burls and grain in the wood can make a powerful artistic statement.

If you go to the exhibit, note the sophisticated design features. His sturdy ovoid chairs stand on just two legs. And study the joinery on the ottoman covered in hand-dyed indigo.

When the Nakashima family was interred in Minidoka, Idaho, during World War II, fellow architect Antonin Raymond (whom Nakashima had worked for in Tokyo) arranged for their release, and invited them to move to New Hope, Pa. Pictures in the exhibition show Nakashima’s home and studio there.

Among the influences on Nakashima was woodwork done in American Shaker villages. The Shaker exhibition at Bellevue Arts Museum, “Gathering up the Fragments,” and this exhibit complement each other nicely.

Nancy Worssam: nworssam@earthlink.net

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