“The Soul of a Tree” is one of those books that is really special, and goes beyond the specific topic of woodworking. Written by George Nakashima, it covers his life’s journey, his world travels, life changing events, and his philosophy on working with trees. Nakashima’s work is almost immediately recognizable and I believe that is in large part to his rich and fruitful life. We all come to woodworking in our own unique ways and Nakashima’s path was one in a million.
Born in Spokane, Washington in 1905, from parents with Samurai decent, and a mother who served in the Emperor’s court during the 1880’s, Nakashima had a rich culture to begin with. He spent most of his early years hiking through the woods, and visiting the great old growth forests of the United States. During this time he worked on the railroads out west, went to college, and became and Eagle Scout.
Nakashima then made a decision that would have the largest impact on his life. He decided to leave home and travel the world, not specifically looking for anything, but really looking to find himself. He spent time in Paris, Japan, and eventually went to India and China. It is important to note that all this happened prior to WWII. This is an important point to make because the world drastically changed during and after WWII. Some of the social movements, architectural influences, religious developments, and most of the landscape, changed because of the war that consumed most of the world. During this time Nakashima never sat still. He continued to work on artistic projects, architectural work, and had many personal journeys of self-development and philosophical expansion. All of these things helped to make George Nakashima into the visionary that he would become, both in architecture and as a woodworker.
Eventually, Nakashima found himself in New Hope, Pennsylvania where he started to build his family and his business, which is still there today. It is easy to say that the work of George Nakashima is unique and very special. His designs are some of the most genuine pieces of furniture around. If you have seen Nakashima’s work you know that he likes to use full slabs of wood, not always, but the majority of his work is that way. By using the entire slab he exposes the true natural beauty of the tree. The tree may be dead, but the soul of the tree lives on in his work. That is truly the real character of his pieces as a wood worker, his respect for the trees that live no longer. Not cutting and bending the wood to his idea, but looking into the wood to find out what it wants to become. His tables and chair designs are truly unique and instantly recognizable.
You can find out more about George Nakashima at Nakashima Woodworker. His work continues with the help of his foundation and his daughter Mira.
I hope you pick up this book and get inspired by the life and work of George Nakashima. One of the best craftsman to have ever picked up a chisel. I rate this book as one of the top 5 woodworking books ever written.
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