Rare and Important Minguren IV Dining Table

For Dr. and Mrs. James E. Bowes

The present lot is an extraordinary table with a remarkable history and connection to the Nakashima studio. The dining table was commissioned by Dr. and Mrs. James E. Bowes in 1967. For nearly fifty years this table was the centerpiece of Bowes family gatherings and it remained in the family collection until earlier this year when Dr. and Mrs. Bowes passed away.

The Bowes were introduced to the designs and expert craftsmanship of George Nakashima when their son, Chris, began an apprenticeship at Nakashima’s New Hope workshop in 1967. Later that year the Bowes placed an order with Nakashima for a custom table large enough to accommodate their family of fifteen. A letter of provenance from Chris Bowes accompanies the work. In the letter, Chris fondly recalls his apprenticeship at Nakashima’s studio and the creation of his family’s table:

This table was commissioned by my parents Dr. and Mrs. James E. Bowes, more directly by my mother who paid for it with what she saved from the household money.  The table was a custom design, one which could seat our family of fifteen (two parents and thirteen kids) comfortably for family dinners. 

I’m sure they would never have purchased something this extravagant had I not been working as an apprentice in Nakashima’s shop at New Hope.  I started in the summer of ’67 and worked there a little over a year.  While I was introduced to work throughout the different departments, I spent most of my time in the chair department.  But when my parents ordered the table, George moved me into the table section, where I worked on several different tables including the one for my parents.  I remember the table causing some considerable discussion due to its size.  Getting two bookmatched walnut slabs that could form a top of that size was not easy.  And I remember the design of the base ended up being unique.   I think that’s why George called it a “Special Arts” table.  I think now that the base is one of his most beautiful designs; I don’t know if he used it for other tables.  I was not skilled enough at the time to build and assemble the base, but I helped and did a prodigious amount of sanding on the top.  I also was allowed to follow the table into the finishing department for my first taste of the world of tung oil and finish sanding. 

The table has been in my family from its completion in early 1968. The table was the focal point of all our family gatherings.  We all especially liked the natural cutout in the end which my father said was my mother’s place since she was always pregnant.  It was always a source of some pride for me, knowing I had a hand in bringing something of beauty into our family.

Due to its massive scale, measuring twelve feet in length, the Bowe’s custom table features a top constructed from multiple slabs of walnut featuring a natural cutout and free edge to one end. Instead of 1/8-inch seams and butterflies to join the boards, the cracks are carefully filled with inlaid wedges of wood making for a solid and beautiful surface. The table’s base is an early example of a design that would become known as the Minguren IV. At the time of the table’s creation it was called the Arts Table. Nakashima had conceived of the design for the Arts Building, the newest structure to be added to his New Hope campus and completed in 1967. The Arts Building was constructed in honor of Nakashima’s friend, the artist Ben Shahn. Two years later, after Shahn passed away and Nakashima had his first show in Japan, the building was renamed the Minguren Museum and the base design was renamed accordingly.  

George Nakashima 1905–1990

George Nakashima was born in Spokane, Washington in 1905. He received a Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Washington in 1929 and a Master of Architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1931, as well as the Prix Fontainebleau from L’Ecole Americaine des Beaux Arts in France in 1928. He moved back to Paris briefly in 1934, after which he moved to Tokyo to work for architect Antonin Raymond, where he was exposed to the Japanese folk art tradition. His work for Raymond sent him to Pondicherry, India, where he discovered his second career as a furniture maker. While there, he designed and supervised the construction of Golconde, a dormitory for Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

In 1940, Nakashima returned to the United States to start a family with his new wife, Marion Okajima, and the couple soon had their first child, Mira. They had settled in Seattle, Washington, and like many of Japanese ancestry living on the west coast, the Nakashimas were sent to an internment camp in Idaho during WWII. While Nakashima was there he made furniture from whatever pieces of wood he could find and learned techniques of Japanese woodworking from others stationed at the camp, including a skilled woodworker named Gentaro Hikogawa. After nearly a year at the camp, in 1943, Antonin Raymond successfully petitioned for the family’s release, which prompted their relocation to New Hope, Pennsylvania. Living on the Raymond farm, it wasn’t before long until Nakashima began making furniture once again and, in 1945, opened his furniture and woodworking studio.

On Nakashima’s property, he designed the family’s quarters, the woodshop, and many out buildings, including an arboretum. There he created a body of work that incorporated Japanese design and shop practices, as well as Modernism—work that made his name synonymous with the best of 20th century Studio Craftsman furniture.

Nakashima believed that the tree and its wood dictated the piece it was to become. He elevated what others would see as imperfections: choosing boards with knots and burls and cracks, which he would enhance and stabilize with butterfly joints. He designed furnishings for sitting, dining, sleeping, and working. While all his work is prized, his Frenchman’s Cove and Conoid tables are most so, particularly when executed in exotic woods and with free edges. Many of his designs are known by their distinctive bases: Conoid, Miguren, Trestle, and Pyramid among them. He is also known for his Mira chairs and stools, named for his daughter, who now leads his shop and continues his design legacy.

While Nakashima’s philosophy did not embrace mass production, he did collaborate with Knoll from 1945-1954 and on the Origins line with Widdicomb-Mueller between 1957 and 1961. Major commissions included furnishings for Nelson Rockefeller and Columbia University. His works are represented in the most important institutions in the world. Among many awards from the AIA and other prestigious institutions, Nakashima received the Third Order of the Sacred Treasure from the Emperor and Government of Japan. He received the designation "Living Treasure" in the United States, and he worked and exhibited until shortly before his death in June 1990, one week after receiving his final award, Alumnus Summa Laude Dignatus, from the University of Washington.

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Auction Results George Nakashima