George Nakashima as an emblem of American and Japanese coexistence

dan alexander and co blog about nakashima

When it comes to interior design no one was better at uplifting our spirits and beautifying our most intimate sanctuary – our home – than George Nakashima. A Japanese-American designer, carpenter and architect, Nakashima was a 20th-century woodworking maven, one who didn’t abide by the mainstream perception of interior design and managed to combine beauty, function and feelings into simple pieces of wood. His nephew, John Nakashima, described his bewitching craftsmanship, noting that George would keep certain pieces of wood in his studio for years and sometimes “it would only be after 10 years that it would occur to him what to do with them” (John Nakashima).

In 1942, Nakashima was incarcerated and interned in the Minidoka Camp in Idaho, USA during World War II. Idaho governor Chase Clark used this camp to execute extreme anti-Japanese policies, exemplifying the rampant xenophobia that followed the attack on Pearl Harbor. Nakashima used his time in this camp to learn carpentry and hone his craft, alongside master Gentaro Hikogawa. Using scraps of wood and plants, they worked together to improve their stark living conditions.

Despite him being a victim of hatred, Nakashima created a cohesion, even a sign of coexistence of sorts between the American and Japanese cultures; in fact, one can even say that he was an emblem of this idea himself, since his work incorporated both American and Japanese elements.

In his innovative, groundbreaking designs uniting beauty and function, Nakashima elucidates the American standards of construction, while also relying on and celebrating nature’s imperfections, thus interweaving the Japanese wabi sabi concept into his work. The latter would manifest itself in the type of lumber that Nakashima chose to use – with its knots, cracks and wormholes –which other designers refused to work with. Nakashima respected and put his Japanese heritage at the forefront by celebrating nature’s flaws and incorporating them into his art. His revolutionary designs set the course for the future of carpentry and inspired generations of artists from miscellaneous artistic fields up to this day.

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