Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Visiting the George Nakashima Workshop

by Jay Siegelaub

The Modern Woodworkers of NJ/NY have already had several excursions to sites & events of interest, including the Roentgen Show at the Metropolitan Museum in January and the recent Woodworking Show in Somerset, NJ.

The latest trip was to the George Nakashima Workshop ( Members of the group were surprised to learn that - although George Nakashima died in 1990, the workshop bearing his name is still quite operational, running under the management of his daughter, Mira Nakashima, at the same location in New Hope, PA, and still producing individual, collector-quality (and functional) pieces.

There have been articles by and about the Nakashimas in Fine Woodworking Magazine.  George wrote a book, "The Soul of a Tree," originally published in 1981, and still in print.  Mira Nakashima wrote her own book about her father and the "family business," called "Nature Form & Spirit - The Life and Legacy of George Nakashima."

One of our members (Jay Siegelaub, from Ossining, NY) took a tour of the Workshop last August, led by Mira Nakashima.  He enjoyed it, and suggested to some members that they, too, could take one of the monthly tours given at the Workshop.  They are given on Saturday mornings, and are led by senior members of the Nakashima staff.  In addition to the tour, the grounds (but not the buildings) are open on Saturday afternoons to walk around and enjoy the space individually

A small group of us indicated interest, and we arranged to take the tour on April 6th.  Seven members - along with spouses and other interested woodworkers - met at the Workshop.  

We had a chance to look around the Office Showroom, which contained furniture, books and other items for sale and display.  About a dozen other people joined us on the tour, and we were delighted to have our tour led by Kevin Nakashima and then by Miriam Carpenter, the designer who is expected to take over from Mira Nakashima (now the Chief Designer) when she retires.  The Office was told that we were a group of woodworkers, and we were encouraged to ask all the questions we wanted - and to come back in the afternoon to speak to some of the woodworkers outside of the Tour.

We visited most of the buildings on the property, with the exception of the residences (as family members still live there).  The buildings were constructed under the direction of George Nakashima, shaped by his design requirements.  He used various non-traditional engineering - like his Conoid Studio and the Pole Barn (where
their exquisite, mouth-watering slabs are stored.)  There are separate workshops for creation (the Main Shop and Chair Shop) and the Finishing Department -- all of which had work in progress that we could observe and examine (to a limited degree).  There were a number of staff woodworkers that we were able to talk to during during the tour.  Miriam knew all aspects of the production process, and so was able to answer most non-specific questions.  In the afternoon we were given special permission to go into the workshops (normally off-limits after the tours) and were able to quiz them to get more details about their work and processes.  We asked about cleaning up the live edges of the pieces ("use whatever tools you have at hand"), the finishing oil they use (Sutherland-Welles Polymerized Tung Oil), and other areas.

The Conoid Studio and Arts Building (all of which can be seen on the website noted above) had displays of Nakashima pieces, both for sale, and as examples of the kinds of work they
were producing.  The Arts Building also had displays from Nakashima Exhibitions that had taken place over the years (such as the James Michener Museum, and the American Crafts Museum).  One building, for example, had a mosaic designed by Ben Shahn on its side. The buildings and design of the grounds all contributed to a picture of a master craftsman who had a grand vision of fine woodworking and craft.

The tour lasted about 90 minutes, after which we went to a nearby restaurant for lunch, followed by several hours back at the Workshop, walking around and grabbing woodworking staff when we could find them, to satisfy our woodworking interests.

It was a very satisfying and inspiring day.

More information about the buildings and George Nakashima's work can be found in:

  • "The Soul of a Tree," by George Nakashima
  • "Nature Form & Spirit - The Life and Legacy of George Nakashima," by Mira Nakashima
  • Fine Woodworking - various articles by and about the Nakashimas
  • “Artists’ Handmade Houses," by Michael Gotkin, photography by Don Freeman
  • and at the Workshop's website:

1 comment:

  1. Excellent post! Thanks for showing such great illustration!