Design Masterworks 19 May 2016

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George Nakashima

Important Minguren II coffee table

USA, 1973
American black walnut
92½ w x 32 d x 18 h in (235 x 81 x 46 cm)

estimate: $120,000–180,000

This important table was originally designed for the Rockefeller’s Japanese house in Pocantico Hills, New York. In the end it did not fit and was not used in the interior.

An exceptional heart-slab single-board top with a wide, sculptural fissure, free edges and cantilevered end.

provenance: Private Collection | Wright, Important 20th Century Design, 4 December 2005, Lot 296 | Private Collection, New York
exhibited: 1990-1992, Minneapolis Institute of Art

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George Nakashima

A Rockefeller Commission

When Nelson Rockefeller commissioned a new structure for his Japanese Gardens in Pocantico Hills, he told famed architect Junzo Yoshimura to build him a “beautiful garden pavilion in a classical style.” Recently lauded for his Tea House built for gardens at the MoMA, Yoshimura was the perfect choice to design a traditional yet innovative pavilion. For the Rockefellers, Yoshimura chose to create a Sukiya-zukuri pavilion, which is a Japanese style of structure used for refined pursuits. To outfit this extraordinary pavilion, Yoshimura asked his close friend George Nakashima to design the furnishings. Constructing over 150 pieces for this commission, Nakashima invented entirely new forms for the interior space and executed them in rare and exotic woods. In creating his furniture, Nakashima espoused that “ultimately, the woodworker’s responsibility is to the tree itself, which has been sacrificed to live again in the woodworker’s hands.”

Nakashima chose his wood with care, often taking years to contemplate a slab before creating a piece that would honor the spirit of the tree. This is visible in the present lot, as Nakashima chose to highlight a gorgeous sculpture fissure that occurred naturally in the American walnut heart-slab of wood. The use of fine joining methods, free edges, and a cantilevered form are all hallmarks of Nakashima’s ingenuity and skill. The naming of this lot refers to Nakashima’s time as a member of the Minguren, or “People’s Tool Guild,” which was a group of Japanese artisans that strove to revive classical Japanese craft. Additionally, Nakashima’s belief that good joinery possessed an “unseen morality” points to the influence of the American Shakers, who believed in the spirituality of both material and craft. This exceptional table from one of the most important commissions of Nakashima’s career blends his innate sense of the organic and spiritual nature of wood with his precise method of craftsmanship. Though initially made for the Rockefeller Japanese House, in the end, this unique table did not fit in the interior.

Each flitch, each board, each plant can have only one ideal use. The woodworker, applying a thousand skills, must find that ideal use and then shape the wood to realize its true potential.

—George Nakashima