George Nakashima is Born
In Spokane, Washington, George is born to a family that claims samurai ancestry on both sides. His parents had immigrated to America from Japan and settled in Seattle.
George graduates from the University of Washington with a degree in Architecture and wins a scholarship to the Harvard Graduate School of Design. After discovering that Harvard’s program is based on theory rather than practice, he transfers to MIT, in search of a more solid grounding in engineering.
Life in France
George wins a scholarship to study abroad and earns a diploma at École Américaine des Beaux Arts, Fontainebleau. Living in Montparnasse, George sees two pieces of French architecture that will profoundly influence his life and work: the cathedral at Chartres and Le Corbusier’s Pavillon Suisse in Paris.
Work with Antonin Raymond's Firm
George joins Antonin Raymond’s architecture firm in Tokyo, which integrates Western technology with Japanese architectural forms. Through his experiences at the firm, George arrives at a deeper appreciation of Japanese culture and design traditions. His young colleagues include Kunio Maekawa and Junzo Yoshimura.
Golconda and Sundarananda
Arriving in Pondicherry, India, as a representative of Raymond’s office, George designs and supervises construction of a major dormitory building, Golconda, which is the first reinforced concrete structure built in India. George becomes a disciple of the guru Sri Aurobindo and is given the Sanskrit name Sundarananda, meaning “one who delights in beauty.”
Marriage to Marion Okajima
George returns to the United States and marries Marion Okajima, a Seattle native and UCLA alumna whom he met in Tokyo. George decides to leave architecture to make furniture, and the newlyweds move to Seattle.
Birth of Mira Nakashima and Internment
Mira Nakashima is born in Seattle, Washington. Shortly after her birth, the family is forcibly relocated to an internment camp in Minidoka, Idaho, alongside 120,000 other Japanese-Americans. The Nakashimas will remain there until 1943, when Antonin Raymond secures their release by ensuring George’s employment on his chicken farm in New Hope, Pennsylvania.
Nakashima and Knoll
George opens his own workshop in the garage of a cottage in New Hope and begins to design furniture lines for Knoll Associates, which connects the Nakashima name to a larger audience. Through his work with Knoll, George becomes friends with Harry Bertoia and Isamu Noguchi.
George barters for the Aquetong Road property in New Hope and begins construction of a shop and furniture business. With Marion as his business partner, the studio grows and George adds more buildings to the property.
Kevin Nakashima is Born
Kevin Nakashima born in Doylestown, Pennsylvania. George adds a room onto the family home for Mira, as well as a showroom/office for Marion in which her sister Thelma lives for a year, taking care of both Kevin and the office. George eventually coins the term “Kevinizing” to describe the personal treatment given to the furniture by his young son.
Pool House Prototype
As a hands-on project, George guides Mira, now in high school, through the design and construction of an architectural prototype of the Pool House on the New Hope property.
Mira graduates from Harvard University cum laude, a member of the first class of Radcliffe College women to receive Harvard degrees. She moves to Japan to continue her architectural studies at Waseda University where she meets her first husband, with whom she will then move to Pittsburgh with their young family.
Opening of the Arts Building
On the New Hope property, the Arts Building, built with a hyperbolic paraboloid shell roof, opens with an exhibition of pieces by the Lithuanian-American artist Ben Shahn.
Mira Returns to New Hope
Enticed by George, who acquires a parcel of land across the street from the original property and constructs a house for her upon it, Mira returns to New Hope from Pittsburgh with her three young children. She begins to assist George with drawings for the shop, and crafts her own designs out of scrap wood.
Kevin Becomes Officer
Kevin Nakashima becomes officer of George Nakashima Woodworker, S.A., working closely with Marion and carving signs with George.
First Peace Altar
George builds the first great Altar for Peace and installs it at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.
George Nakashima Passes Away
George dies at the age of 85, and Mira takes over as Creative Director of Nakashima Woodworkers.
Nakashima Reading Room
Mira Nakashima designs and builds the Nakashima Reading Room, a permanent exhibit created in memory of her father at the Michener Museum. Much like George’s international style, the architecture of the room makes use of traditional Japanese elements through a contemporary lens.
Marion Nakashima Passes Away
Marion passes at 92, leaving the Arts Building to the Nakashima Foundation for Peace. Mira becomes president of Nakashima Woodworkers.
Recognition of the Property
The Nakashima home, studio, and workshop in New Hope are listed on the Pennsylvania National Register of Historic Places. In 2014, the property is designated a United States National Historic Landmark and becomes a World Monument.
George Nakashima began his furniture business as a reactionary movement against the practice of twentieth-century “modern” architecture, design, and art. Through his work, he called for a reclamation of the philosophy of earlier historical periods, in which the human eye and hand determined an individual’s world in relationship to the universe, not the universe itself.
With a solid background in architectural history and design, engineering and building practice, George turned towards a simpler life in which direct contact with materials, tools, clients, and craftsmen was more important than the imposed egoism of the modern design world.
George’s approach was that of an Integral Yogi: not only did he believe that the inherent beauty of natural materials like wood should be studied, understood and respected, but that the product should retain such materials’ marks of individuality, as well as those of the craftsperson who brings it into being.
In his book The Soul of a Tree, George described his philosophy in which wood is not regarded as an inanimate object, but rather as a material which “lives and breathes.” Through the woodworker’s hands, wood takes on a life of its own. We continue to observe this philosophy when crafting the Nakashima furniture we produce today.
Mira Nakashima’s work grows from her father’s philosophical legacy and expresses her own profound admiration for nature, having lived and worked in close contact with the wood that defines both her artistry and her daily experience. In her designs, Mira captures the form and spirit of the wood, which is capable of transmitting its sensitivity, peace, and harmony into the furniture and those who use it.
Trained in her father’s craft from a young age, Mira received her formal design education at Harvard and within Waseda University’s intensive atelier system, which imbued her conceptual process with a strong belief in the value of collaboration. Under her leadership, Nakashima Woodworkers has expanded its community of craftspeople and integrated design team, which adheres to the approach and philosophy established by George while imagining new, creative solutions.
In carrying on the Nakashima legacy, Mira was motivated to preserve and utilize the prodigious pile of custom-sawn lumber that her father left with his passing in 1990. Along with her daughter Maria and ex-husband Tetsu Amagasu, Mira conceived of a modified Pennsylvania “pole barn” structure to house the lumber on the New Hope property, which continues to be an invaluable source of raw material and inspiration.
Spurred by her deep respect for her father’s ideals and process, Mira strives to appreciate, safeguard, and expand upon the traditions and knowledge integral to George’s work, and to communicate through wood the beauty that is a manifestation of the divine.
From an early age, Kevin Nakashima embodied his father’s belief that “Furniture should be lived with and not treated as something overly precious. A certain amount of scratching and denting adds character to a piece.” His preternatural gift for “antiquing” a surface became known affectionately among the family as “Kevinizing,” a practice that is prized and encouraged among all end-users of Nakashima furniture.
In the shop, Kevin’s role evolved from sweeping and drilling holes to shaving spindles, assembling chairs, and making pencil holders, letter openers, and seat blanks. Having lived his whole life on the New Hope property, Kevin is keenly aware of the pleasure that comes with daily use of objects crafted with artistry and care.
More than any other, Kevin has long been attuned to the “personal relations” side of the Nakashima business. Always gregarious, he catches visitors – including artists, philosophers, scientists, and collectors – in conversation, facilitating the fruitful exchange of knowledge and stories.
Kevin’s spirit and character naturally lend themselves to the joyful perpetuation of the Nakashima legacy, in the support and caregiving he’s provided and in the memories he’s preserved of his parents, their relationship, and their joint contributions to the studio.
Each team member brings a different gift to our work. Some have worked in construction, others have studied art, and some have crafted furniture in other places, but all are unified by a shared love and respect for George Nakashima’s work, design approach, and way of life.
Jonathan Yarnall, Craftsman
Jon received a Quaker education and came to Nakashima in 1974 in search of a job. He decided to devote a lifetime to following George’s path and eventually married George’s daughter, Mira. His careful attention has served the wood well; from his perch in the Chair Shop, he crafts fine pieces and dispenses mystic philosophy. His natural sensitivity finds full expression in the phrase “Silent Trees Speak.”
Gerald Everett, Craftsman
Jerry knew George and Kevin through St. Martin’s Church in New Hope, and he resolved at age ten to pursue a future in woodworking. With almost fifty years in the Nakashima shop, Jerry is a living archive of knowledge, a problem-solver and mentor to the younger craftspeople. Due to the dexterity with which he mends flaws in wood, he is known by the nickname Father Nature.
Vaishnavi Ilankamban, Assistant Designer
Vaishu joined Nakashima in the Design Department in 2018. After 3 years as a designer, she became a full time woodworker. Having a thorough knowledge of the design process, she brings with her a unique blend of engineering, artistry, and sensitivity to wood.
Alyssa Francis, Craftswoman
Alyssa joined Nakashima in the Finishing Department in 1995, and has dedicated herself to learning as much as she can about furniture construction, details, and history. Expert and exacting, she helps Jerry pass along the legacy of furniture construction to the younger woodworkers with meticulous care.
Michael Veith, Craftsman
Michael came to Nakashima in 2010 after the dedication ceremony of the Peace Garden at Chandler Hall in Newtown, PA, which was designed by Mira and built by Michael’s parents in memory of Marion Nakashima. Every project Michael works on has an exceptionally beautiful spiritual presence, reflecting the mind, hand, and spirit of the maker and allowing the intrinsic qualities of the wood to speak.
Craig Anderson, Craftsman
Craig worked as a forklift operator and then in furniture repair and refinishing before coming to Nakashima in 2007. He has a perfectionist’s eye for detail on repairs and an artist’s eye for coloring and even duplicating grain lines in the fill for cracks and wormholes. Beyond being one of two in the Finishing Department, Craig maintains the ponds on the New Hope property and is known around the shop for his camping tales.
David Lipton, Craftsman
Growing up in Doylestown, PA, David would ride his bike past the New Hope property, with its unique buildings and beautiful setting, and wondered what went on there. He joined Nakashima in 1999, where he works in the Main Shop, and his sense of both humor and humility allows him to flow seamlessly to whatever job needs to be done.
Richard Ganor, Craftsman
Born and raised in New Jersey, Rick worked as an engineer for fifteen years before coming to Nakashima in 2005. In the Chair Shop, he crafts turned-leg chairs, intricate lamps, and various pieces for the showroom; his engineer’s intellectual precision is evident in every piece.
Matthew Seezox, Craftsman
Hired in 2001, Matthew works in the Chair Shop, where he builds conoid chairs, makes parts, and refinishes and repairs older items. He embodies Soetsu Yanagi’s ideal of the “Unknown Craftsman” who quietly does the work that needs to be done.
Justin Taylor, Craftsman
Justin started as a groundskeeper in 2003 and is currently head of the Finishing Department. His awareness of the finishing procedure’s impact on the environment, the furniture, and its end-users is extraordinary. Justin also faithfully tends the property’s vegetable garden , has a knack for catching and releasing birds that get trapped in buildings, and has rescued the fish in the ponds from large snapping turtles.
Brandon Spector, Craftsman
Thanks to a grant from the World Monument Fund, Brandon came to Nakashima in 2016 in the dual role of woodworker and apprentice restoration carpenter for the property. With his artistic eye, Brandon has become adept at making the smaller pieces for sale in the gift shop and is happily working his way up to making larger pieces, as well as recording, photographing, organizing, and moving the wood in the storage sheds.