George Nakashima: The Art of Gaman and Beyond

Office showroom at Nakashima Woodworker, New Hope, PA. Image copyright George Nakashima Woodworker, SA

In February, my in-laws took us to see an incredible museum and woodworking shop in New Hope, PA. Among the large, wooded residential plots of land sits the homestead of George Nakashima (1905-1990), who is considered to be one of the world’s greatest woodworkers. During his lifetime, Nakashima came to be known as the “Elder Statesman of the American Craft Movement.”

During our visit, we had the great pleasure of speaking with Kevin Nakashima, George’s son, about his father’s work. We found that not only was George Nakashima a master woodworker, he had started out as an architect and was sought after for his talent in integrating building design into the aesthetics of the natural surroundings. Kevin showed us photographs of the construction of a Benedictine Abbey, called Christ in the Desert, for which his father was the original architect in the 1960s. Last month, I had an opportunity to visit the abbey while on a trip to Santa Fe. More on that in another post…

Image copyright Christ in Desert Abbey

We were given tours of most of the buildings on the homestead. Nakashima’s love for nature was evident in the structures, which were all built to take advantage of natural light and passive heating and cooling. And his furniture is all built from fallen wood – no trees are cut to make his pieces. I found out that George Nakashima Woodworker, SA is a member of the Sustainable Furnishings Council (SFC). Members of the SFC pledge to: eliminate unrecyclable content and primary materials from unsustainable sources; endorse Life Cycle Assessment as the best method for analyzing the environmental impact of their products, and a verifiable chain of custody as the only acceptable method for tracking wood flow; and support the trip bottom line of People-Planet-Profits and promote awareness of best practices throughout supply chains.

Inside the Nakashima Showroom. Image copyright Apartment Therapy.

What Kevin didn’t tell us was that his father had learned the art of traditional Japanese woodworking and the use of found materials while interned at Camp Minidoka in Hunt, Idaho during World War II. It was not surprising that Kevin did not want to talk about this painful period in his father’s life. It was also not surprising that Nakashima had developed a new level of artistic skill while in the camp. In 2010, I was able to view an exhibit at the Renwich Gallery entitled The Art of Gaman.

Gaman means to bear the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity,” “to grin and bear it,” accoriding to Delphine Hirasuna who curated the exhibit. (Actor George Takei defines gaman as, “To endure with fortitude and dignity,” and he is currently working on creating a Broadway musical, Allegiance, based on his experience in an interment camp as a child). It was during this time that Nakashima perfected the discipline of patiently working with the natural grain and contours of the materials to achieve perfection in form.

While in the camp, Nakashima learned woodworking from Gentaro Hikogawa using found materials (since they were not allowed to bring anything with them, the detainees used materials that came from garbage found in the camps as well as from the natural environment). Hikogawa taught him how to use traditional Japanese hand tools and joinery techniques.

In 1943, Antonin Raymond, an American architect who had collaborated with Frank Lloyd Wright on the Imperial Hotel (and with whom Nakashima had worked before his internment) sponsored Nakashima’s release from the internment camp and invited him to stay at his farm in New Hope, Pennsylvania. In 1973, Nelson Rockefeller commissioned Nakashima to design and build 200 pieces for his house in Pocantico Hills, New York. Nakashima went on to build a reputation as one of the best 20th century American Art furniture designers.

Image copyright George Nakashima Woodworker, SA

He also went on to become a dedicated advocate for peace. As part of his Foundation for Peace, Nakashima’s magnificent Peace Tables, made from huge slabs of wood, reside in Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City, Russian Academy of Art in Moscow, Unity Pavilion in India, and one is being created for the Desmond Tutu Peace Centre in Capetown. On June 3, at 3:00pm, they are holding a concert, “Mostly Motets for Peace” to benefit the Nakashima Peace Foundation.

Nakashima peace table in India, image copyright PhillyBurbs.com

George Nakashima Woodworker, SA is open to the public on Saturdays from 1:00p to 4:30pm, and is located at 1847 Aquetong Road, New Hope, PA 18938.

And for an album of gorgeous photos of George Nakashima Woodworker, SA as well as several of his signature pieces, I highly recommend this wonderful feature article on  his daughter, Mira Nakashima-Yarnall, in Apartment Therapy.

Trashionista: On a mission to save the world, one trash can at a time!

The following post is by Katie Peige, Herban Lifestyle’s Sustainability Associate

Let’s be real, trash is probably the least sexy of all sustainability topics, especially when we are talking about hospital waste (biohazard anyone?!) I’m not going to lie; it’s been gross. And let me tell you I have weird, funny, shocking, disgusting, heartbreaking, inspiring, and just plain odd stories about having my first full-time sustainability job revolve around hospital waste, but those are stories for another blog post so, I digress.

Anyway, this Sustainababe had persevered through all the craziness of setting up three primary waste streams and teaching hundreds of nurses (and a variety of supporting staff) what is considered infectious, non-infectious, and recyclable. Sustainasnob Rant/Confession: I hate WASTE unless you can feed it back into the materials economy. As William McDonough, father of Cradle to Cradle design says, “Pollution is a symbol of design failure.” Waste causes pollution from all the hauling, burning (waste incinerators!), and rotting of the stuff (that is, if it ever breaks down in a landfill!) Additionally, dealing with hospital waste means that I either have to promote diversion from the incinerator or the landfill (not good environmental options either way you look at them) or recycling (which, at 30% recyclables for 3+ million pounds per hospital, comes out to 1 million pounds per year!) This problem drives me nuts! My school and life training taught me to believe that the best way to solve a problem is to prevent it from happening in the first place. My mantra is “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” And at work, it really bothers me that I cannot address the huge waste issue using the first two steps. I am an idealist and dreamer to the core, so this blog post is not going to be completely negative. On the contrary, it is about the blast I had tackling the second R – reuse. [Quick side note, check out Annie Lenord’s Story of Stuff, to fully understand the complete cycle of our products including disposal].

So now to the fun stuff! I have been working a lot in the Operating Rooms (ORs) lately (no smelling salts were ever needed, to my surprise!), stressing the proper waste guidelines and tackling the oh-so-annoying problem of blue wrap!

What the heck is blue wrap you ask? Basically, it is like wrapping paper for surgical instruments to keep everything sterile. It is the consistency of a paper towel, but made from plastic. A plastic that can be recycled. Yay! So I spent a few months getting the proper ducks in a row and now my ORs are recycling the stuff. The excitement from that project had me bouncing around the hospital for weeks knowing the blue wrap was not going to spend hundreds of years breaking down in a landfill, or worse, being burned!

The hospital where I spread the green love, received an award for their “Greening the OR” efforts and in celebration I was inspired by this video (the kids are so adorable in this video), to make my own dress from blue wrap!

I started with two different colors of blue wrap since this hospital is fazing in the darker color over the lighter color. I wanted to make a dress but had no idea how, so I got some help from Charlotte, the Sustainability Coordinator at the hospital. And later, my mom helped with the sewing, which wasn’t easy since we had no pattern. I started with tracing out panels from my favorite summer dress and things just kind of morphed from there. I had once seen a girl on Halloween sport a globe dress (her costume was Global Warming), and ever since I wanted my own Earth Mama dress (why yes, even my ideas are recycled!) So the dual colors of blue wrap presented the perfect opportunity to pull this off. To achieve realistic looking continents, I cut up an old National Geographic Map of the World poster and used the pieces as a template, traced those out onto the dark blue, cut those out, and glued the dark blue continents onto the light blue dress (while using the middle seam as the prime meridian, can you say Geography Geek?!)

I also added earrings made from fans that came from an old towel warming unit provided by my favorite Tinkerer (a mechanic who fixes broken medical equipment in the Biomed Department).

The Celebration Day came, and I put on my dress and safety pinned myself in and prayed that my dress would not fall apart. I walked into the ceremony and was swarmed by the attendees. “Oh my goodness, Katie!” “That’s made out of blue wrap!” “How did you do that?!” “Can we get your picture?!” “Look,it’s the Earth!”

I felt like Miss America! To my embarrassment, I was just getting over laryngitis so all I could do was squeak a few yeses and thank yous. Yet through it all, I had a blast playing with blue wrap and creating the coolest piece of Trashion, I own ☺. It’s all about perspective! Here’s to rocking the Creative Reuse! So glad this dress is made of plastic, it will last FOREVER and will be required attire for every Earth Day for the rest of my life!

Wordless Wednesday: What I Did on Mother’s Day

One of my Mother’s Day traditions is to spend time in the garden. It feels almost decadent to have a full day of unstructured time where I can work with my hands in the fresh air. And last Sunday, the weather couldn’t have been more perfect for such a thing.

We went to the gardening center and picked out flowers and vegetables

Then I turned over the dirt in the raised-bed garden that my husband dug last year

then I added some peat and manure

and I mixed it all until it was evenly-blended

And here is my raised-bed garden, complete with veggies and shade plants. In the background, you can see a flower bed where my husband planted the colorful flowers in the first photo.