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 George Nakashima  (1905 - 1990)

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Lived/Active: Pennsylvania/Washington / Japan/India      Known for: architecture, furniture design, sculpture

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BIOGRAPHY for George Nakashima
1905 (Spokane, Washington)

Pennsylvania/Washington / Japan/India

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architecture, furniture design, sculpture

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Biography from Rago Arts and Auction:
George Nakashima was born in Spokane, Washington in 1905.  During his youth, Nakashima spent time in the great forests of the Northwest and eventually went on to study forestry at the University of Washington before changing his course of study to architecture after two years. (1)

He received his master’s in architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1930.  After working as a mural painter on Long Island and in Albany, Nakashima went abroad to Paris. (2) He then went to Japan to visit his mother’s ancestral home in Kamata, and took a job in Tokyo working with architect Antonin Raymond.  They worked together on the construction of a dormitory, and its custom-built furniture, at the Sri Aurobindo ashram in Pondicherry, India. (3) It was Nakashima’s first foray into furniture making.

In 1939, Nakashima left India and returned to Japan where he became engaged to Marion Okajima.  The couple returned to the US in 1941 and settled in Seattle where Nakashima worked as an architect and furniture maker.  The couple’s daughter, architect and woodworker Mira Nakashima, was born in February of 1942, during the WWII internment of Japanese-Americans.  The family was sent to an internment camp in Minidoka, Idaho, along with thousands of other Japanese-Americans. During their time in the internment camp, George met a traditional Japanese carpenter from whom he learned much about traditional joinery.(4)

They were released in 1943 with the help of Nakashima’s former boss, Antonin Raymond.  Upon release from the camp, the Nakashimas joined Antonin Raymond on his farm in New Hope, Pennsylvania.  George quickly began making furniture once again, using “scrap” wood from a nearby furniture company in Pennsylvania and also from fallen trees.(5)

Although Nakashima preferred hand-made pieces and was skeptical of mass production, he did collaborate with the furniture manufactory of Hans Knoll from 1945 to 1954, and also Widdicomb-Mueller out of Grand Rapids from 1957-1961. In 1951 his work was presented by the Museum of Modern Art.  He received a gold medal in craftsmanship from the American Institute of Architects in 1952.

Nakashima received a number of notable commissions over his lifetime from the furnishings for Nelson Rockefeller’s home in Pocantic Hills, New York in 1947 to the over one-hundred pieces made for Dr. Arthur and Evelyn Krosnick of Princeton, New Jersey in the 1980s. George Nakashima died in 1990 at the age of eighty-five.


1. Iovine, Julie V. “George Nakashima” in ed. Todd Merrill and Julie V. Iovine, Modern Americana (New York: Rizzoli, 2008. p.125
2. Ibid, p.125
3. Ibid, p.126
4. Ibid, p.126
5. Ibid, p.126

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