Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Can’t see the wood for the trees and for good reason – George Nakashima’s furniture design and manufacture legacy is born again.

All photographs of the trees were taken by the blogger,
 on a trip to China in June of 2012.
George Nakashima’s perceived myopic principals applied to the art of furniture design and manufacture was and is a blessing in disguise. Many lessons can still be learnt from his approach. George Nakashima turned his back on the modernist aesthetic of form follows function, to adopt a more decorative approach to the design and manufacture of his furniture. 
I say decorative, because he never ever lost sight of the inherent qualities of the wood he worked with. Far from it, he closely examined each ‘plank of each tree’ to make the most of its second life as a piece of couture furniture. Each piece of wood was treated like driftwood, shaped by nature itself to take centre stage in the final design. Giving life to a refined piece of furniture design, in a way that the original form and shape of the tree is celebrated and or never forgotten.  
Very much in the way that fashion designers would treat textile designs. They will carefully examine the textile print and or woven patterns, before shaping the sourced fabric into a garment - to maximise the qualities of the print and where necessary the texture. Working with the principals of design to incorporate a symmetrical and or asymmetrical approach to the garment’s design, depending on the one-of-a-kind fashion statement and or range. 

Whilst on a visit to China last year, a number of trees caught my attention; their orchestrated shapes and the care taken to preserve them for generations to come – especially those singled out in parks.

Sculpted during their long growth period, they take on all shapes and sizes and make for interesting visual and focus points in the carefully designed urban open green spaces. In sharp contrast to the wrinkles of aging skin, these tree surfaces are admired for obvious reasons. They are beautiful in themselves, without the continuous human intervention. However their overall proportion and design have often been shaped over a long period of time to take on a new dimension of bonsai proportions.

Admired by all who walk past – they have become icons of the park, lending an enduring maturity to the place. Without which the honed design statement, cultivated over time, cannot be realised – another age-old Asian tradition. It is with this attention to detail and knowledge of the pruning tradition, that George Nakashima approached his wood crafted one-of-a-kind Zen design statements. 

He relished the inherent design possibilities presented by the pieces of wood that he sourced for a second life.  The phrase was sited in an article of his daughter, Mira, the creative director of Nakashima Woodworkers in New Hope, Pennsylvania. She hopes to continue his legacy (his death in 1990) by designing and developing her own range, titled Keisho (Japanese for ‘continuation’).

The Vogue Living article outlining her design aims and objectives reads as follows; This year she will debut a collection created under her sole direction, carefully negotiating her own, more feminine aesthetic with her father’s existing designs, trademark butterfly inlays and dedicated, Shaker inspired work ethic. “My father’s approach came from his rigorous architectural training and his experience in the Sri Aurobindo Ashram (in Pondicherry India) which made him shun the egotism of modern art, architecture and design, says Nakashima, “He said that each plank of each tree has its particular destiny.” An evolving legacy runs from 20 September – 2November at Moderne Gallery Philadelphia, USA:;

I too greatly admire his design aesthetic and work ethic and trust that many will be inspired by his design approach, in whatever form and or shape they create their own wood crafted statements. ‘In a climate where resources are increasingly scarce, and longevity in design and skilled craftsmanship are harder to come by, Nakashima believes her father’s philosophy only stands to grow in significance. In the protégé ‘s own words, “ Although the concept of using wood in its natural form has been part of the Japanese cultural and aesthetic history for centuries, I do believe that my father was one of the first to introduce it to 20-century-Western Design, says Nakashima, “Since trees are becoming a disappearing resource globally, it would be fitting that people pay more respect to them. All photographs of the trees were taken by the blogger on a trip to China in June of 2012.