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George Nakashima's Family Gifts Famed 20th-Century Furniture Designer's Archives

DOYLESTOWN, PA.- Mira Nakashima-Yarnall and Kevin Nakashima, on behalf of George Nakashima Woodworker SA, Ltd., signed an "Agreement for Gift of Archives" with the James A. Michener Art Museum during a traditional Japanese Tea Ceremony at the Minguren Arts Building on the Nakashima Compound in New Hope, Pennsylvania. The agreement establishes that the Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania will serve as a major repository for the famed 20th-century furniture designer's archives, including letters, drawings, photographs, awards and other documents related to the artist's work.

"This is an extraordinary gift to the Museum and the international community of scholars and researchers of 20th-century furniture design," said Bruce Katsiff, the Michener Art Museum's Director/CEO. "George Nakashima used his profound appreciation for nature, deeply felt spirituality, architectural training, life experiences and sophisticated understanding of traditional and modern design principles to develop a unique approach to furniture-making that has influenced designers around the world. There is enormous interest in his work, and we look forward to preserving Nakashima's archives for generations to come."

Among the varied items included in the gift are large scale architectural drawings from Nakashima's 1930 Masters coursework at Massachusetts Institute of Technology; pencil sketches and manuscript pages from The Soul of a Tree, the artist's 1981 published memoir; and a wide collection of slides and photographs.

Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, who worked alongside her father for 20 years and now serves as President for the business, explained: "Our primary concern is that these documents are properly conserved and stored. We've had a close relationship with the Michener for many years and trust that their skilled staff will ensure the archives are cared for appropriately."

According to the artist's son Kevin Nakashima: "We also value the Michener Art Museum's dedication to educating the public about Bucks County's artistic legacy, and we appreciate the Museum's close proximity to New Hope, where our family lived and worked, with its surrounding woods and landscapes that our father cherished so much."

George Nakashima was born in Spokane, Washington in 1905. Trained as an architect at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, he worked in Antonin Raymond's firm in Japan and discovered his calling as a furniture craftsman while working at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram in India. In the early 1940s, Nakashima, his wife Marion and their young daughter Mira were among the 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry forced to leave their homes and live behind barbed wire in "relocation centers." While in a wartime internment camp in Idaho for over a year, Nakashima learned traditional skills from a Japanese woodworker. In 1943, Raymond brought Nakashima and his family to his farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. Nakashima acquired three acres of land outside of the riverside community of New Hope in 1945, where he built his home and workshop, which has since expanded to 9 acres and 14 buildings, with related operations in Japan and India.

Despite international success, Nakashima continued—until his death in 1990—to personally oversee design of every piece of furniture his firm produced. The heart of Nakashima's design philosophy was reverence for the trees used to craft his furniture. Each tree, Nakashima believed, has its own character and soul; it is the craftsman's mission to express this essence. He allowed the form of the wood to dictate the furniture's shape. Fixing cracks with butterfly joints, Nakashima maximized imperfections in the wood, allowing flaws to enhance the piece's distinctive beauty.

Nakashima's most monumental work is his Altar for Peace, first installed in 1986 at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. A second altar was installed posthumously in 1996 at the Unity Pavilion in Auroville, India, followed by a third in 2001 at the Academy of Art in Moscow. A fourth Altar for Peace is set for installation next year at the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre in Cape Town, South Africa. Among many awards, 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 through 1988. Nakashima's last solo exhibition in the United States opened at the American Craft Museum in New York in 1988. His work is permanently on view at such prestigious museums as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; Philadelphia Museum of Art in Philadelphia; and Renwick Gallery at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C.

In 1993, the Nakashima Reading Room was permanently installed at the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pennsylvania showcasing classic work from the Nakashima Studio. The display includes a Claro walnut free-form table, five Claro walnut Conoid lounge chairs, cherry bookshelves and handcrafted cabinets, all of which celebrate nature and the creative and divine spirit of the Earth. The installation was designed by Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, who has served on the Michener Art Museum's Board of Trustees.

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