Visitors to the Andersen Horticultural Library discover that among the library's treasures are furnishings designed and built by influential American architect and master woodworker George Nakashima. Commissioned by the late Governor Elmer L. Andersen and his wife Eleanor, Nakashima's beautiful, custom-designed tables, chairs, display cases, and shelving complement the high ceilings, large bay windows, and wood paneled walls of Edwin Lundie's architecture to make an inviting and comfortable retreat for reading, reflection, and research.
Appropriate for the natural setting of the Arboretum, Nakashima's work shows an inherent respect for the life of a tree, reflecting his belief that the irregular growth and insect damage some would call flaws are instead indicative of the tree's character.
A great deal of thought goes into selecting the right piece of wood for each piece of furniture. Most of the Library's furniture was built from Americam black walnut; four tables are "book matched," meaning the boards come from the same tree and are joined and reinforced with butterfly inlays. The coffee table is from the burl of an English oak that grew for at least 400 years in the Sherwood Forest.
Despite Nakashima's wish that the furnishings be "lived with and not considered overly precious," the Library takes great care of the furnishings. Staff members provide surface protectors to patrons with laptops, and every year since 1975, staff and volunteers have gathered for "Miserable Day," when each piece is laboriously, but lovingly, cleaned and oiled.
Read the article, "Splendid Table,"from the Chaska Herald about Nakashima, and watch the video below, also produced by the Chaska Herald.
About George Nakashima
Born in Spokane in 1905, Nakashima grew up near the forests of the Olympic Peninsula. He received degrees in architecture from the University of Washington and MIT. In 1924, George, his wife Marion, and their infant daughter Mira, were sent to an internment camp in Idaho. While there, Nakashima met and trained with a traditional Japanese carpenter, perfecting his craft and developing one of his signature pieces: the large, smooth slab table with "free edges," meaning the board retains the contours of the tree trunk from which it was cut.
George Nakashima's dream was to create a series of magnificent tables called Altars of Peace, each altar being created from the same extraordinary walnut log. One table would reside on each continent and be a symbol of man's aspirations for a creative and beautiful peace. The first altar is located at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, installed in 1986. The second table can be found in Moscow at the Russian Academy of Art, placed there in 2001. The third table is located in the Unity Pavilion in Auroville, India. For more information see The Nakashima Foundation for Peace.
Nakashima died in 1990. His daugher, Mira, continues to operate the business in New Hope, Pennsylvania, and has also created some pieces for the Andersen Horticultural Library.
Learn more at George Nakashima Woodworker, or in one of these books (available at the Andersen Horticultural Library):
Nakashima, George. The Soul of a Tree: A Woodworker's Reflections. New York: Kodansha International, 1981.
Nakashima, Mira. Nature, Form, & Spirit: The Life and Legacy of George Nakashima.New York: H.N. Abrams, 2003.
Ostergard, Derek E. George Nakashima: Full Circle. New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989.