Born in Spokane, Washington in 1905, woodworker-designer George Nakashima began his studies as a Forestry and Architecture major at the University of Washington, subsequently earning a Bachelor of Architecture around 1929. He then studied at the École Américaine des Beaux Arts near Paris, and went on to earn a Masters Degree in Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1930.
He began his career as an architectural designer for the Long Island State Parks and the New York state government. In 1933, he moved to Japan and then India, where he learned his craft from traditional woodworkers. While in Japan, he also worked for American architect Antonin Raymond. He returned to the U.S. in the early 1940s, and started a furniture workshop in Seattle. During World War II, Nakashima and his family were sent to an internment camp, where he was trained to work with salvaged wood by a master Japanese carpenter. The Nakashima family were released in 1943 under sponsorship from Raymond, who was then living in New Hope, Pennsylvania; the designer moved there with his family and opened a design studio. Later in his career, Nakashima devoted himself to the goal of constructing peace altars on every continent, beginning in 1986 with a massive black walnut piece at New York’s Cathedral of St. John the Divine.
His work celebrates the natural beauty and simplicity of wood—often incorporating the raw, rough edges of the material in his finished pieces—with a great emphasis on craftsmanship. Notable collaborations include work for Knoll, Widdicomb-Mueller, and, in 1973, over 200 pieces for then Governor Rockefeller’s Tarrytown, New York estate.