George Nakashima is a longtime favorite of ours, and the lovely Japanese American National Museum in Little Tokyo (in downtown Los Angeles) is putting on an exhibition of his life and work that will open on Sept. 12. I’m thrilled to get the chance to finally see his work in person.
Nakashima began his academic career in forestry, then switched to architecture. He learned the art of furniture-making while he was interred in a Japanese internment camp in Idaho during World War II from an elderly craftsman imprisoned in the camp with him. His background is a good Rosetta stone for understanding the rubric of his work: it is first about the wood, next about the space and form, and finally about the craft itself.
Nakashima’s furniture has always spoken to me, in part because of his reverence for the wood itself — I’m a sucker for artists who worship their medium. But he is not just a materialist; his designs are innovative, smart, beautiful, and sometimes irreverent. His World Peace Tables are remarkable, not just for their powerhouse symbolic meaning, but for their sheer luminosity and tactility. Be sure to see the exhibition while it’s in town.