George Nakashima-a statement
In 1962 George Nakashima wrote:

Our approach is based on direct experience – a way of life and development outward from an inner core; something of the same process that nature uses in the creation of a tree – with one addition, the aspiration of man to produce the wonder and beauty of his potentialities – no “statements,” no “pillars of design,” no personal expression, no frivolity, but an outlook both severe and spontaneous. A firm design, based on principles as universal as possible, producing objects without “style,” is real and utilitarian. The subtlety of the evolvement of the finest materials shaped with intense skill, inadequately termed craftsmanship, can produce a basic sensitivity.

In a world where manual skills are shunned we believe in them, not only in the act of producing a better product, but in the sheer joy of doing or becoming.
We feel that pride in craftsmanship, of doing as perfect a job as possible, of producing something of beauty even out of nature’s discards, are all homely attributes that can be reconsidered.

It might even be a question of regaining one’s own soul when desire and megalomania are rampant – the beauty of simple things.

It is not entirely sentimental for us to think in terms of devoted men – hands shaped differently after generations of woodworkers – who can make a perfect ten foot shaving from a ten foot board. It is dedication which is traditional, but is fast being lost – a tough skill that becomes increasingly valuable as it becomes rarer.

To look for clues, we can go into the past: the moss garden and tea house at Sai Ho Ji, the wonders of stone and glass at Chartres, the dipylon vase. These are all examples of excel-lence that can go unchallenged but also unno- ticed. They are all formed inwardly with a nearly impersonal experience. Compared to our day, with its arrogance of “form-giving,” the shallowness of slogan design such as “less is more,” “machine for living,” or even “form follows function.” the earlier examples are certainly intellectually uncluttered and organically sound.

All the tortured and elaborate educational devel- opment might be legitimate if the results were good. In proportion to the flood of consumer goods, we are probably at one of the lowest ebbs of design excellence that the world has seen. It requires a genuine fight to produce one well designed object of relatively permanent value. One of the difficulties is the lack of integration between the designer and the producer – the evolvement of material and method into a well conceived idea. Big city architecture has reached such a profound
state of boredom that man might unwittingly destroy it in one last tragic
gesture – without humor. Sentimentally again, we can look back to the thirteenth century, when almost every hinge was a museum piece. Where there was a touch of greatness in the majority of acts and conceptions.

As the practical skills needed for this type of work are almost extinct in this country, most of our workers are young men with European training and experience who are basically interested in craftsmanship. It is a synthesis of old traditions with modern requirements, quite opposite to the usual art or design school in that the fundamental techniques of good workmanship are first
resolved and then integrated into pieces designed for contemporary use.

Over the years we have built up a collection of extraordinary lumber; in a sense priceless, as many items are now unobtainable. From this material, we start the making of useful objects to fulfill man’s life – again we hope, in a manner akin to the disciplined way by which nature produces a tree… or a flower.

George Nakashima, 1962


One response to “George Nakashima-a statement

  1. The conditions Nakashima describes does not seem to me to have been as bad in 1962 as they are now. The concern, however, must be if we wish to live a decent existence.
    I believe it was my interest in Shaker furniture that attracted me to Nakashima’s work and approach to woodworking. My fascination, from a very young age, with large boards counts for something too. The Shakers believe in simple design that insured an objects utility – frills and decorations are discouraged. Stark is good! Like Nakashima, they do “cheat” and use the natural colour and grain of the wood to their advantage and our pleasure. For me, Nakashima goes a step farther and incorporates defects or weaknesses in his materials to heighten the beauty of his pieces. Knots, large cracks in hugh boards, burl, and troubled grain are all exploited. His lovely butterfly keys in the middle of his island-like tables, holding tight the natural central cracks inherent to two metre boards from the trunk of a tree. The use of the clays found at the bottom of water stone trays; the swarf from the sharpening stones to fill the grain of a porous wood are also an examples of his love of nature and abhorrence of waste. His house is… yummy.
    This use of defects seems in sharp contrast with the Shinto philosophy of defect less purity. Yes, a perfect king post, with perfectly uniform grain and colour is truly beautiful… but wasteful.
    Almost all my carpentry and cabinetmaking is squarely Japanese or highly influenced by Japanese design and aesthetics. I can’t help it.
    I wonder what he thought of my favourite staircase; the one at the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe.
    So, in the meantime, I keep my best Aromatic Cedar shaving (7’3”) in a drawer with my sweaters. Off with you moths! Nothing is wasted.

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