HARRISBURG, Pa. — The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission (PHMC) on April 23 joined with the historic preservation community across the country in recognizing the George Nakashima Woodworker Complex located in New Hope, Bucks County, as a National Landmark as designated by the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Internationally renowned furniture designer and woodworker George Nakashima is recognized as one of America’s most eminent furniture designer craftsmen. The George Nakashima Woodworker complex is significant for its innovative Japanese-influenced International Style structures designed by Nakashima and built under his direct supervision.
As a self-proclaimed “woodworker,” Nakashima became an important voice for the artist craftsmen, helping to create a new paradigm for studio furniture production in the postwar period.
“As the state historic officer for Pennsylvania, I am pleased with the recognition of this very significant artist and artisan,” said Jim Vaughan, executive director of the PHMC. “His works can be found in museums around the world and an appreciation for his work has only grown since his death in 1990.”
Nakashima’s work expresses a world view that is based upon a unique set of circumstances, including his formal education in architecture and his exposure to European Modernism, Eastern religious philosophy, and traditional Japanese craft traditions. Those traditions include instruction from Issei carpenter Gentaro Hikogawa while both were confined at the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho, one of 10 internment camps where Japanese Americans were held during World War II.
The designation of the Nakashima’s Woodworker Complex, along with three other sites, was made by U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and National Park Service Director Jonathan B. Jarvis as part of National Park Week. These sites join 2,540 other sites across the country recognized as places that possess exceptional value and quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States.
Other sites receiving this designation are the Adlai E. Stevenson II Farm, Mettawa, Ill.; the Detroit Industry Murals, Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, Mich.; and the 1956 Grand Canyon TWA-United Airlines Aviation Accident Site, Grand Canyon National Park, Ariz.
“These four new national historic landmarks are as diverse as our American heritage, telling stories of triumph and tragedy, of dedicated public service and artistic beauty,” Jewell said. “As part of a nationwide network of unique, historic sites, they help ensure the journey we have taken as a nation is remembered and interpreted both now and for future generations.”
“As the National Park Service approaches its centennial observance in 2016, we are seeking ways to highlight and share the breadth of the American experience,” said Jarvis. “These new national historic showcase the rich, diverse, and complex history of our nation’s story, as well as drive tourism and boost local economies.”
The National Historic Landmarks Program, established in 1935, is administered by the National Park Service on behalf of the secretary of the interior. The agency works with preservation officials, private property owners, and other partners interested in nominating properties for National Historic Landmark designation. Completed nominations are reviewed by the National Park System Advisory Board, which makes recommendations for designation to the secretary of the interior. Additional information on the designations can be found at http://www.nps.gov/nhl/news/intro.htm.
The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission is the official history agency of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Visit PHMC online at www.phmc.state.pa.us.
About George Nakashima
Nakashima was born in Spokane, Wash., in 1905 and grew up in the forests of the Olympic Peninsula. He received a bachelor’s degree in architecture at the University of Washington and a master’s from MIT in 1930, as well as the Prix Fontainebleau from L’Ecole Americaine des Beaux Arts in France in 1928.
After spending some time in Paris, he traveled around the world and secured a job at the Antonin Raymond office in Tokyo, which sent him to Pondicherry, India, where he was the on-site architect for the first reinforced concrete building in that country and became one of the first disciples of Sri Aurobindo.
When the war broke out, he returned to the U.S. via Tokyo and met his future wife, Marion. They married in 1941 and were sent to Minidoka in 1942 with their infant daughter, Mira. Through the sponsorship of Antonin Raymond, Nakashima came to work on his farm in Bucks County, subsequently rented a small house on Aquetong Road and then purchased a parcel of land, where he designed and built his workshop and house.
Among many awards from the AIA and other prestigious institutions, Nakashima received the Third Order of the Sacred Treasure from the emperor and government of Japan in 1983 in recognition of the cultural exchange generated by the shows he produced in Japan from 1968-1988.
His last show in the U.S., the retrospective “Full Circle,” which opened at the American Craft Museum in New York, sponsored by the American Craft Council and curated by Derek Ostergard, marked him as a “living treasure” in the United States. This show returned to New Hope shortly before Nakashima’s receiving his final award, Alumnus Summa Laude Dignatus, from the University of Washington one week prior to his death in June 1990.
It was Nakashima’s dream to provide “Altars of Peace” for each of the seven continents. Constructed from a magnificent pair of matched black walnut, the first “Peace Altar” was consecrated and installed at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City in 1986.
The second Sacred Table, built to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United Nations in 1995, was made from the same monumental black walnut tree and blessed at the same cathedral. After serving its mission as a unifying presence at The Hague Appeal for Peace in May 1999, it resides in the newly renovated Russian Academy of Art in Moscow to help inspire peace in the new millennium.
A third table, built and sent to India in 1996, has found a permanent home in the Unity Pavilion of the “City of Peace,” Auroville, which sprang from the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in Pondicherry, where Nakashima was once a disciple.
The George Nakashima Foundation for Peace is currently working on collecting donations for a fourth Sacred Peace Table that will be housed in Capetown, South Africa at the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre for the continent of Africa.
For more information on Nakashima’s life and work, visit http://nakashimawoodworker.com/.