September 24, 2013

Nakashima Woodworkers Put Their Newest Designs on Display

Nakashima Woodworkers reflection coffee table

Reflection coffee table, a new design made in 2012. Photo courtesy of Christian Giannelli

What would George have done? That’s the question Mira Nakashima finds herself asking when she’s stumped by a design or a piece that isn’t coming together just right, she says in a recent interview with the New York Times. For 20 years she served as her famous furniture-maker father’s understudy, so its easy for her to imagine the answer to the question she asks herself and her team.

George and Mira Nakashima in his Pennsylvania studio.

George and Mira Nakashima in his Pennsylvania studio.

George Nakashima was an architect and woodworker well known for his American craft furniture designs, many of his pieces feature large slabs of wood with natural edges and butterfly joints. The Japanese-American Nakashima studied architecture at University of Washington and M.I.T.  before traveling the world, making his first furniture pieces while living in India. After returning to the US at the start of World War II, Nakashima was interned into a War Relocation Center (an American concentration camp) where he met a man who trained him in traditional Japanese carpentry.

The Nakashima Family

The Nakashima Family

The Nakashima family eventually settled in Pennsylvania, and the patriarch became known for his hand-crafted, 20th-century American furniture designs. Mira joined him in his studio. When her father passed away in 1990, Mira took up the business and her father’s famous work. “I just picked up the pieces where Dad let them fall, and I’ve tried to continue his tradition and explore a little further,” she says.

These days, Mira’s studio produces her own creations in addition to those of her father’s legacy, and she heads up a group of ten designers, known as the Nakashima Woodworkers.

In a new show at Philadelphia’s Moderne Gallery, twenty-five new custom pieces from the studio will be on display until November 2. The exhibit, called Nakashima Woodworkers: An Evolving Legacy, will feature designs that reference drawings by George Nakashima, designs from Mira’s Keisho line (Japanese for ‘continuation’), and works from the new generation of woodworkers practicing their craft in the famed studio. If you didn’t make it to the opening or can’t get by to see the show, you can see her work in Mira’s book, Nature, Form, and Spirit.

Nature, Form, and Spirit—a new book by Mira Nakashima.

Nature, Form, and Spirit—a new book by Mira Nakashima.

“Art is to be beautiful,” Mira says. “Craft implies, in my father’s definition, that it should be something that’s practical and useful in life.” It’s likely this level of form melding with function that made the Moderne Gallery has long been a fan of the Nakashima oeuvre. “It is very natural that we should present our next step forward at Moderne Gallery,” says Mira. “Moderne Gallery has featured my father’s work, and also supported my own developing work for more than 25 years.”

Mira Nakashima

“We are honored to be showcasing Nakashima Woodworkers: An Evolving Legacy at Moderne this fall,” says the gallery’s owner/director Robert Aibel. “After presenting the first gallery show of the works of George Nakashima in 1989, and four other major Nakashima exhibits, in addition to those with Mira, we are thrilled to be able to present the next generation of the Nakashima tradition.”

Are you a fan of Nakashima’s contemporary craftsmanship? We’d love to know what you think of Mira and the woodworkers’ new designs if you get to Philadelphia to see the exhibit so please let us know!

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