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George Nakashima (American, 1905-1990)

Art

Birth Place: Spokane, Washington

Biography:

Who was furniture maker George Nakashima?

George Nakashima was a master woodworker, designer, and furniture maker whose modernist approach to furniture helped revolutionize the industry. Even during his lifetime, Nakashima’s work was ultra-collectible, and his workshop could barely keep up with the demand for his pieces. Unlike some of his contemporaries, Nakashima never expanded, never advertised, content to work in the same studio he had used for decades.

That didn’t mean that Nakashima’s work wasn’t recognized. His pieces have appeared in the Museum of Modern Art and the American Craft Museum. His studio was designated as a national historic landmark after his death. Nakashima is perhaps best known for his Altar for Piece, a nearly 125 food altar made for the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. 

What kind of art does George Nakashima create?

George Nakashima created one-of-a-kind pieces of furniture. While American by birth, his work in Tokyo in the 1930s introduced him to the Japanese folk art tradition, which became a profound influence on his aesthetic for the rest of his life. Nakashima was a naturalist, with great respect for the trees used to create his pieces. Nakashima preferred to make hand-made pieces but did occasionally collaborate with furniture manufacturers like Hans Knoll or the Widdicomb-Mueller company. His work still inspires wonder today and is considered highly collectible in both the art and furniture community. 

How did furniture maker George Nakashima get started?

Born in Spokane, Washington, Nakashima was born to work with wood. His love for the great forests of the Northwest led him to study forestry for two years at the University of Washington before eventually changing his major to architecture. After graduation, Nakashima attended M.I.T., receiving a masters in architecture in 1930. From there, the young artist traveled abroad, working briefly as a muralist before becoming an apprentice architect in Japan. It was there that Nakashima would begin making furniture. Japan also marked a time of supreme inspiration for Nakashima, his exposure to Japanese folk art would have a lasting effect on the furniture maker, who started to incorporate many of these techniques into his own process. Nakashima returned to the US in 1941, where Nakashima was forced into an internment camp in Idaho, during his time there Nakashima continued to study with a Japanese carpenter who taught him about traditional Japanese joinery techniques. 

How much is George Nakashima’s furniture worth?

George Nakashima’s pieces are extremely valuable. His relatively low-output, borne out of a quality over quantity ethos, made his work highly sought during his life. This value has only increased in the years since his death. His tables and cabinets regularly sell in the six-figure range. The highest price at auction ever paid for a George Nakashima piece is $161,000 for the piece Important and Rare Minguren Coffee Table (1977) on November 17th, 2016. His beautiful, natural pieces make for a striking and remarkable addition to any collector’s catalog. 

Where to buy George Nakashima’s furniture for sale?

See works for sale below. Why buy from Heritage? Art buyers feel confident because our experts know the market and put careful valuations on artwork for sale. We make the bidding process easier to help you expand your art collection.

How to value George Nakashima’s furniture?

The best way to value art is to compare past auction prices for similar works. View past sale prices below. When you’re ready to sell, contact Heritage Auctions to request an auction estimate of the likely selling price at auction. If you need a formal written appraisal for estate planning or insurance, please contact our Appraisal Services department.


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