Mira Nakashima: worthy successor to father George
NEW YORK — When renowned architect, furniture-maker and woodworker George Nakashima died in 1990, daughter Mira Nakashima (American, b. 1942-) had no qualms about stepping into his shoes to manage his legacy.
As president and creative director for George Nakashima Woodworkers in New Hope, Penn., where her father built a home and furniture factory in 1945, she has not been content to merely echo the same distinctive and high quality pieces her father designed. In her own works, she seeks to expand his design legacy while embracing the very essence of the wood in each piece. In a video interview posted on the company’s website, she noted that her father was a tough boss who fired her on multiple occasions when she dared to question him or offer an alternate approach to a project. And he often turned down what he called “outrageous” requests from would-be clients in his lifetime, she is quoted as saying. After his death, though, when she was left with a large amount of custom-sawn lumber and orders to fill, she said she did the “outrageous” stuff. In taking this chance, she not only kept the business alive, but also the American craft tradition.
Nakashima furniture has always embraced natural imperfections. Pieces often have free-form edges, and the wood’s natural knot holes, distinctive wood grain and fractures and gaps are celebrated in the design, rather than hidden. Trees had lives before they became furniture, and, like her father before her, Mira Nakashima honors that fact.
“Nakashima furniture is meant to be lived with as a member of the family, full of imperfections as we all are, but maintaining a sense of balance and equanimity through all stages of life,” she is quoted as saying.
The familial — and artistic — legacy of Nakashima furniture now includes work such as the custom-made conference table slabs designed for Hyatt’s corporate offices in Chicago in 2005. One example in walnut having nine of the classic Nakashima butterfly joints (butterfly or bow-tie shaped pieces of wood used to reinforce or connect two slabs of wood) sold for $72,500 plus the buyer’s premium in August 2020 at Heritage Auctions. The slab is signed by Mira Nakashima on the underside and measures about 60 by 66½ by 1¾in.
Of all forms of Nakashima’s furniture, dining tables are arguably the most distinctive and the best showcase for the artisans’ characteristic free-form edges. Instantly recognizable as a Nakashima creation is a Minguren I coffee table from 2008 that realized $16,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2023 at Freeman’s. That select auction featured 25 lots of Mira Nakashima pieces from the Geoffrey Halaburt estate. The table and several other pieces were signed Halaburt on the underside, and the client was said to have worked with Mira Nakashima extensively during the design process. The Minguren furniture series was named for the designer artisans in Japan that George Nakashima trusted to run its early exhibitions there.
While Nakashima free-form edge tables are highly desirable, with prices that can easily rise to five figures, rectilinear tables are also available and perhaps a bit more affordable. A perennially coveted furniture series was the one named after Nakashima’s Conoid studio, which George had built between 1957-59. The warped look of its roof inspired the name of the furniture line that has continued for decades. In the Conoid dining set, the table has a rectilinear form, but the chairs have the curved Conoid styling. A single-board Mira Nakashima Conoid dining table sold with six single-board Conoid dining chairs made $30,000 plus the buyer’s premium in April 2023 at Freeman’s. Created in 2007, the set was fashioned from American black walnut and the table’s top retained two bullet fragments and a single butterfly joint.
Room dividers make a powerful artistic statement. Going far beyond storage needs is a Mira Nakashima Special room divider in American black walnut from 1993 that brought $26,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2023 at Rago Arts and Auction Center. The divider measures 30 by 84 by 18in, but it’s the details make this piece desirable. It has a single slab top with two free edges, natural exposed knots, expressive figured grain and three doors concealing six shelves.
Storage pieces are always popular and welcome throughout a home, from the dining room to the living room to the bedside. A pair of Mira Nakashima’s Kornblut cabinets from 1998 made $22,000 plus the buyer’s premium in May 2022 at Rago Arts and Auction Center. Featuring two doors hiding an adjustable shelf and made of butternut, black walnut and curly maple, the cabinets stand 34in tall.
In continuing her father’s legacy, Mira Nakashima has also managed to create and evolve her own design style. While auction prices for her furniture have not yet reached the same level as that of her father’s work, the market for her designs has been growing steadily. Collectors are noting her contributions to the fields of design and craft furniture, and the pieces she makes from sustainably harvested hardwoods continue to appeal and find new audiences.