One of the most revered people in the world of wood furniture design is of course, George Nakashima. He is labeled as and always will be one of the originators of the craft, and many great artists have been majorly influenced by his entire style and grace.
It only seems feel right to give you all a look into his life, what he accomplished, and how his spirituality (infused with skill) ended up being such an inspiration to all wood-carving artists around the world.
Well,  let’s start out where he was born and raised because the location in itself seemed to organically seep into his soul, being that he ended up becoming an immaculate artist of the woodworking craft. In a time way before the internet was giving people inspiration (1905) George was born in a remote area of Spokane, Washington called the Olympic Peninsula. This area is known for its lush forests and vegetation, so it is no wonder why at a young age he was initially drawn to nature.
He was a very educated man, earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Architecture from the University of Washington, then moving on to earn his Master’s at MIT. That was in 1930, but prior to that, he received the Premier Prix de L’Ecole des Beaux-Arts de Fontainebleau in France two years before. Annually they select between 15 and 25 students from various places to participate in the program, and George was one of the chosen candidates. To qualify for it, the students have to be ultra-communicative with using the mediums of visual media and drawing. So, even though it was tough to get into the program, George was just organically meant to be there.
He went on to spend time in various locations like Paris, Tokyo, and India. When he did finally move back to the U.S. he met his loving wife, Marion. They had a daughter named Mira, and the three of them were sent to the harsh internment camps that many Japanese Americans were forced to relocate to during World War II. It was a much-undeserved thing for such a good man and his family, especially since his daughter was only an infant at the time. This was likely the roughest time in George’s life, but his daughter says that he never talked about it.
BBC news ran a piece that talked about the time that the family spent in that horrible place, where the food, toilets, and other living conditions were not fit for human habitation. Mira voiced how she feels even to this day about the incident, even though she was just a baby back then. The camp itself was in Idaho in 1942, but she says that she actually still feels the physical scars from being forced into living there.
“There was a mess hall there with food that none of us Japanese-Americans ate,” she told reporters, “and my mother had trouble finding formula for me… I have bone problems to this day that were probably caused by my lack of good nutrition.”
It is hard to believe how a man who has his works on display at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art could have gone through something like that, but his daughter believes that the reason he never spoke about the camp is because he wanted the experience to transfer into his work. This may be part of the reason he was able to create such a unique woodworking technique that transferred into some truly extraordinary
This may have been part of the reason he was able to create such a unique woodworking technique that transferred into some truly extraordinary pieces of art. A number of artists have carried on his traditional style creating some amazing custom furniture pieces often now referred to as “Nakashima Style Furniture.” These pieces range from custom dining tables made from beautiful solid wood slabs to truly unique custom chairs and beyond.
He was a very spiritual man, and PBS did a piece on how he gave up an entire salary in 1937 to volunteer to supervise the building of a dorm for an ashram that was administered by Sri Aurobindo, an Indian activist who eventually became a well-known spiritual leader.
It was when he left there that he settled in Seattle to become the master woodworking craftsman that he is known for today, and the rest is history. The Wood News displayed a piece from the Buck Counter Courier Times that highlighted his spiritually-infused artistic gift, as well as things that George mentions in his autobiography (entitled “Soul of a Tree”), such as how long he would concentrate before even beginning to start a new project:
"When I'm making something out of a piece of wood, I have a long dialogue with it, sometimes for years," Nakashima said in a 1979 interview. "I have to find my own relationship with the spirit of a tree, and pretty soon, the wood evolves as a form."
George died in New Hope, Pennsylvania on June 15, 1990, but his legacy will live on in the hearts of wood carvers everywhere, forever.

For 25 years, furniture maker Paul Dumond has been building custom furniture that is unusual, unique, rustic, contemporary and one of a kind. In recent years he has been buying recycled urban trees in an effort to reuse, repurpose and recycle salvaged urban hardwood trees that would otherwise be taken to the landfill or chopped up into firewood. We use this wood to build custom dining tables, handmade executive desks, unusual boardroom tables, rustic coffee tables, custom table tops, custom bar tops and handcrafted benches and stools made to order and shipped worldwide.


Have something to say? Share your thoughts with us in the comments below.