O do di do do

Imagine listening to the radio inside this magnificent cabinet from George Nakashima!

On view through December 24 at Moderne Gallery in Philadelphia, “Early Furniture by George Nakashima, 1936-1956: The Architect Designs” traces the developments of George Nakashima’s early years as he began to form his unique vision. The exhibit also is the first venue to showcase the new Shoki Collection by George Nakashima Woodworker.

The studio of George Nakashima Woodworker introduces the Shoki Collection (pronounced show-kee and meaning “early years”), a new line of furniture based on recently discovered drawings by the legendary craftsman George Nakashima, made in the early 1940s, now adapted and brought into being by his daughter, Mira, a renowned designer and woodworker in her own right. (You can read more about this wonderful man and his daughter here.)

“It’s not clear whether or not my father ever built or sold works from these drawings, but we decided to make up selected items to gain an insight into his early creative process,” says Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, creative director and head designer. “As some of the designs would be impractical for modern-age usage, we’ve modified the scale and substituted maple for poplar, which we no longer use in our current production. We’re delighted by the result and are pleased to offer this new collection to clients.”

The Shoki Collection debuted on Oct. 9 at Philadelphia’s Moderne Gallery as a feature of the gallery’s exhibition: Early Furniture by George Nakashima, 1936-56-The Architect Designs. Copies of the original drawings are included in the exhibit, alongside some of Nakashima’s early architectural drawings.

In the fall of 2008, Mira and her brother Kevin began gifting their father’s archives to the James A. Michener Art Museum in Doylestown, Pa., to ensure preservation of these important documents.  While sorting through various materials for the museum they “discovered” the 1940’s drawings and decided to put them into production for the show at Moderne Gallery.

Crafted with thinner, dimensioned lumber rather than the wide, flitch-cut slabs of Nakashima’s better-known later work, the Shoki Collection pieces combine angles, curves and unusual exposed joinery details to express a spare, Zen-like functionality.

Between 1941 and his death in 1990, George Nakashima established himself as one of the most notable 20th-century furniture designers in the world. 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 and its ultimate destiny. He allowed the form of the wood to dictate the furniture’s shape. Fixing cracks with butterfly joints, Nakashima maximized imperfections in the wood and allowed flaws to enhance each piece’s distinctive beauty.

Since 1990, Mira Nakashima-Yarnall and her brother Kevin Nakashima have extended their father’s tradition not only by producing the classic Nakashima Studio lines, but by continuing the evolution of new designs through the Keisho furniture, meaning “continuation.” Today, George Nakashima Woodworker employs 10 craftspeople in its New Hope, Pa., studio. The studio’s work is routinely exhibited at galleries, art centers and museums throughout the United States.

While the prototypes of the new Shoki line on exhibit are not for sale, the pieces may be ordered through Moderne Gallery, 111 N. Third Street, Philadelphia: www.modernegallery.com or directly from George Nakashima Woodworker: www.nakashimawoodworker.com.

— Emily Irwin

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