George Nakashima left an internment camp in Idaho and came to Bucks County. There, he created iconic, influential wood furniture — including the straight-backed chair, a modern take on the classic Windsor chair. The U.S. Department of the Interior on Wednesday named Nakashima’s woodworking complex in New Hope a national landmark.
Born in 1909 in Spokane, Washington, Nakashima — who died in 1990 — traveled around the world after earning a masters in architecture from MIT. When World War II began, he returned to the U.S. and married. In 1942 he was sent to an internment camp, the Minidoka Relocation Center in Idaho. With the sponsorship of Antonin Raymond, a Czech architect who had worked with Nakashima in Japan and India, Nakashima was freed from the camp and settled on Raymond’s farm in Bucks County. He subsequently settled on a farm on Aquetong Road in New Hope and built his studio there.
At his Bucks studio, Nakashima produced furniture for Widdicomb-Mueller and Knoll — which has re-introduced his straight chair — and became a father of the post-war American craft movement. He received numerous awards for his work, including the Third Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Emperor and Government of Japan in 1983. His foundation is attempting to accomplish his dream of installing “Altars of Peace” — carved from an enormous black walnut tree — on all the continents.
"This is a big step in commemorating my father and his work," his daughter Mira Nakashima Yarnell told The Intelligencer of Doylestown. "My dad would be happy and smiling." The paper's Freda R. Savana writes Mira continues her father's work at the New Hope farm.
The National Historic Landmark executive summary (.pdf) notes the site is 12.2 acres and most of the buildings are in excellent condition. "Nakashima is best compared with prominent craftsmen such as Wharton Esherick and Sam Maloof," the summary reads. "Still, Nakashima’s work expresses a worldview that is based upon a unique set of circumstances, including his formal education in architecture, his exposure to European ￼Modernism, Eastern religious philosophy, and traditional Japanese craft traditions, including instruction from Issei carpenter Gentaro Hikogawa while confined to a Japanese-American Internment Camp."
National Historic Landmarks are designated by the Department of the Interior as "nationally significant historic places" that "possess exceptional value or quality in illustrating or interpreting the heritage of the United States." The benefits for landmark sites are access to federal grants and tax breaks for preservation activity, and increased tourism due to the extra attention from the designation.