Born in 1905 in Spokane, Washington, to Japanese immigrants, George Nakashima is an American woodworker and architect, who was a leading figure of the American craft movement and innovative 20th century furniture design. He was educated in architecture at the University of Washington and M.I.T.
After finishing his studies in 1931, Nakashima sold his car and bought an around-the-world steamship ticket. He traveled around in France, living the bohemian life in Paris for a year, India and Japan. In Japan, while working for Antonin Raymond -American architect who also collaborated with Frank Lloyd Wright-, Nakashima journeyed through Japan in detail, learning Japanese architecture and designs. Throughout his travels, Nakashima absorbed both traditional and modern aspects of art, design and culture and melded them in his unique style.
However, the turning point of his career came in a film-like moment. During the WWII, like many Asian Americans, Nakashima was exiled into an Internment Camp. Here, he met an old master of traditional Japanese carpentry and under his teaching, learned the secrets of traditional Japanese hand tools and joinery techniques. More importantly, he learned to approach the wood with discipline and patience, understanding it better and seeking perfection in each phase of his design. Nakashima had a special relationship with wood and the tree itself, visible in his memoir “The Soul of a Tree”.
He gave a second life to the trees with his signature woodworking design, using massive solid wood slabs with unfinished natural edges or multiple slabs connected with butterfly joints. He is known for his preference of walnut, ash and cherry and accepting materials that were rejected by other woodworkers for their imperfections.
Nakashima always included family members in his studio, most importantly his Harvard educated architect daughter Mira Nakashima, who took over his legacy. Today, Nakashima furniture is favored by both the collections of traditional institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Smithsonian Institution and Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as in the homes of Stephen Spielberg, Brad Pitt, Diane von Furstenberg and Steve Jobs.