George Nakashima

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 March, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 20 March, 2005, 12:00am

Who is he? The late Japanese-American furniture designer known as 'the spiritual carpenter'.

So he took after Jesus? No, he believed wood has a soul and spoke of giving trees second lives through his furniture designs. He considered technology brutal.

Should I know his work? No. He failed to make the same impact as modernist gods such as George Nelson. Supposedly this is no fault of his own, but the result of his style being aped so much by amateurs and opportunists. His raw-looking furniture, artfully designed to bring out the vivid grain and gorgeous curves of the native cherry and black walnut he loved, took on the aura of 1970s kitsch thanks to the emergence of 'woodbutcher-style' tables and chairs.

What's his story? A descendant of samurai, Nakashima (below) was born in 1905 in Spokane, Washington. He started out studying forestry but read architecture at the University of Washington and at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He graduated in 1930, at the height of the Great Depression. Determined to master the craft of carpentry, he explored India and Japan, picking up tips from traditional carpenters. In the wake of Pearl Harbour and America's entry into the second world war, Nakashima and his fellow Japanese-Americans were herded into concentration camps. Nakashima turned adversity to his advantage, practising on salvaged wood under the eye of a Japanese master carpenter. He was released and founded his workshop in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, in 1945. A believer in melding work and life, he set up a one-man shop, still operated by his daughter Mira, which attracted some of the world's handiest chippies. He also won a swathe of awards, including the Gold Craftsmanship Medal of the American Institute of Architects in 1952 and the Third Order of the Sacred Treasure in 1984. The latter came from the Japanese government in recognition of his technical prowess and innovation. He died in 1990.

What is he most famous for? His 1959 Conoid chair (versions of which are pictured below) is a highlight. It has only two legs, with skis to stop it falling over.

Where can I buy his work? George Nakashima Woodworker, 1847 Aquetong Road, New Hope, Pennsylvania 18938, United States, tel: 1 215 862 2272;, e-mail: info@ Or, Sakura Seisaku-sho, 1132-1 Omachi, Mure-cho, Kita-gun, Kagawa-ken 761-01 Japan, tel: 81 878 45 2828; e-mail: