George Nakashima was born in Spokane, Washington on May 24, 1905.
A nature lover from a young age, he became a Boy Scout before studying Forestry at the University of Washington. Nakashima later shifted his focus to Architecture, earning a master’s degree from MIT. During the 1930's he worked as an architect for Antonin Raymond’s firm in Tokyo.
In 1941, after marrying and relocating to Seattle, Nakashima turned his attention to furniture design - but less than a year later, he, his wife and newborn daughter Mira were forcibly relocated to the Minidoka internment camp in remote Idaho. There, George met Gentaro Hikogawa, a young Japanese man who had learned the traditional Japanese craft of woodworking at age 15 before emigrating to the U.S. Functional furniture was a necessity for the thousands who were sent to the camps with little notice, cobbling together a home in the trying conditions - everything from wood to nails had to be scavenged. Under these constraints, Hikogawa taught Nakashima traditional joinery techniques and respect for the material with all its character and “flaws.”
The Nakashimas remained in the camp until 1943, when repeated efforts by Raymond to sponsor the family finally paid off. The family relocated to Raymond's farm in New Hope, Pennsylvania and began to carve out a new life.
Within two years, reacting to his experiences and with a distaste for mass-production, George opened his workshop in a garage, producing handmade furniture for Knoll Inc. as well as individual clients. By 1946 he had moved to the New Hope site which became a famed live/work complex; Nakashima Studio remains in use today by his children Mira and Kevin, who continue their father’s legacy.
Nakashima did not treat wood as an inanimate object; his furniture fuses materiality with the skill of the craftsman, revealing what he called “the soul of the tree.”
Today, George Nakashima Woodworkers is helmed by Mira Nakashima, who upholds her father's philosophy and craftsmanship in her modern designs.
“Instead of a long running and bloody battle with nature, to dominate her, we can walk in step with a tree to release the joy in her grains, to join with her to realize her potential, to enhance the environments of man.”
— George Nakashima