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Rose Mary
By Rosemary McKittrick
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Coffee Table; predominately free edge; English walnut; 61 ½ inches long; 1970-71; sold for $14,220. Photo courtesy of Skinner Auctioneers.
In the 1984 woodworker George Nakashima undertook the largest project of his life. He built a shrine called the Altar for Peace. It was a place where people from all over the world could meditate, pray or simply sit quietly.

Completed in 1986, the project was christened on New Year’s Eve in the Cathedral Church of Saint John the Divine in New York City.

Nakashima’s 45 year career had come full circle with this project. In building the altar he followed the same steps of selecting and cutting the timber and the same artistic vision he used from the very first project he undertook in his career.

“The working of wood has brought me into another world,” Nakashima said. “It reveals a kinship with nature and a search for its deepest relationship with man.”

Nakashima understood the connection. He saw the same moods in a grain of wood he saw in people.

Happy, sad, fancy, simple, it was right there. All that was missing was the awareness. As a craftsman he expressed that connection clearly through the wood he chose for his projects.

His intention was to give each piece of wood a fitting and noble purpose. If you asked Nakashima collectors what the magic is behind his creations most would probably say the woodworker’s success was -- doing just that.

Nakashima had a way of choosing and using solid boards which brought out the personality of each tree. Each was so different and unique. New designs took a back seat to understanding the wood he was using in that design.

“I have spent my life in schools, permeated with knowledge, but short on wisdom. I have taught and been taught knowledge, but one cannot teach wisdom,” Nakashima said.

He waited, sometimes for years, until he saw just the right patterns and forms in a tree, log or timber. Then he began his project.

Nakashima was a visionary who lived in harmony with nature around him.

“He is one of the quietest and most serene persons I have ever known,” said Nobel laureate George Wald in the forward to Nakashima’s book, “The Soul of a Tree”. “He makes the dead wood live again in new ways.”

Nakashima constructed his richly grained furniture on a farmlike compound near New Hope, Pa. His tables, desks, chairs and cabinets stand as testimonials to his unique talent.

“Trees have a yearning to live again, perhaps to provide the beauty, strength and utility to serve man, even to become an object of great artistic worth,” he said.

Nakashima died in June of 1990.

He is best known for his large-scale tables made of huge wood slabs with smooth tops but unfinished natural edges, made of multiple slabs connected with butterfly joints.

These natural edges are highly prized by Nakashima collectors.

On June 28, Skinner Auctioneers in Boston, Mass., featured a selection of Nakashima furniture in its 20th century Furniture & Decorative Arts auction. Here are some current values.

George Nakashima

Greenrock Ottoman; walnut and upholstery; walnut frame and custom cushion designed to fit without slipping; 11 inches high; 1981; $5,925.

Desk; walnut; rectangular top sets aloft a single bank of drawers flanked by tapering legs; 48 inches long; $9,480.

Lounge Chair; with arm and rocker; freeform arm with wild sap; American black walnut; signed and dated 1983; $13,035.

Coffee Table; predominately free edge; English walnut; 61 ½ inches long; 1970-71; $14,220.

Chest of drawers; free-edge top with dovetail joints at end; three sliding doors along front; fitted with nine drawers in banks of three; walnut; 1961; 84 inches long; $16,590.

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