Nakashima studio complex on World Monuments Watch
Studio was built by George Nakashima in 1946
The World Monuments Fund has included the George Nakashima studio complex in Solebury Township in its list of endangered cultural sites around the world.
The Watch has seen a need to recognize the importance and special issues of the architecture of the recent past.
Along with the Nakashima studio, a number of sites on the 2014 Watch fall into the same category, including sculptor Donald Judd’s buildings at The Chinati Foundation, Marfa, Texas; Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, Taliesin, in Spring Green, Wis.; Eero Saarinen’s St. Louis Arch, in Missouri; Ciudad Universitaria de Caracas, Venezuela; and Casa Klumb, San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Saving modern heritage sites begins with recognition of their significance, according to World Watch, and also requires an innovative approach to conservationwork, dealing with materials that were unconventional and innovative themselves at the time of the buildings’ construction.
“George Nakashima’s furniture, which brought out the beauty of rough edges, knotholes, cracks, and other natural features of wood, is now prized as art and considered among the best examples of the American craft movement,” Jody Godoy of Kyodo news service said in a Japan Times story Jan. 13.
Since George’s death in 1990, his daughter, Mira, her father’s apprentice for 20 years, has carried on his legacy, creating furniture at his studio on Aquetong Road near Washington Crossing Historic Park.
The buildings are not falling apart, Mira said, but a plan and expertise are needed to preserve the place where her father created his life’s work.
“The architecture that was built here ... I don’t think you can ever build it again. It was experimental in its time ... nobody has done it since,” she said.
Three of the seven buildings on the site, influenced by Japanese and modern styles, are on the watch list. Included are the Minguren Museum, with a plywood shell roof that that soars above it.
“The museum and other buildings used reinforced concrete, which is susceptible to weakening over time,” the Godoy said. “Squirrels sometimes gnaw at the museum’s patchwork of wood window frames and Japanese-style slatwork. A tile mosaic on the front of the building has been exposed to weather for over 40 years.”
George Nakashima was born in 1905 in Seattle to parents who emigrated from Japan. He studied architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and worked as an architect in Japan and India before returning to Seattle.
The Nakashima family was moved with other Japanese-Americans to the Minidoka Rehabilitation Center in Idaho during World War II. Antonin Raymond of Bucks County, with whom George had worked in Tokyo, sponsored him to leave the camp with his wife and young daughter and come to work as a laborer at his farm. In 1946 George built his first studio and began to develop his distinctive style.
Mira, also an architect who studied at MIT, said “He built the same way he designed a piece of furniture. He worked around the natural shape of the piece of wood. When he built the buildings he built around the natural shape of the property.”
The buildings are in touch with the outdoors, naturally lit and surrounded by trees. “Working among the small, naturally lit buildings set among the trees, the current Nakashima woodworkers are living out one of George’s basic beliefs: that people should have contact with the reality of nature. It shows in their work,” Godoy wrote.
And Mira Nakashima said, “If we were working in a warehouse, it wouldn’t leave the same impression. There is something about the landscape and the buildings that is very quieting.”
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