What do you get when you cross a library with an arboretum? Well, in Minnesota you get George Nakashima. Or, at least you get his furniture. Thanks to our late Governor Elmer Andersen and his wife Eleanor, the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum's Andersen Horticultural Library is fully stocked with some outstanding pieces of furniture. The Governor and his wife commissioned a number of Nakashima's tables and chairs that can be used by library patrons. The only caveat... put a pad under your laptop computer! There are also a couple of beautiful pieces there by his daughter Mira.
Why am I at the arboretum, you ask? Well, I've just been commissioned to make a desk that will be highly influenced by Mr. Nakashima. Visiting the arboretum library is a great opportunity to get to know the master's work... without the barriers imposed by a museum.
When you walk into the library you can feel the warmth of the wood and the way it soothes and calms. What a great place to do a little arboreal research. The very fact that the public is allowed (and even encouraged) to use these tables and chairs is amazing. I've seen museums display lesser examples of furniture and craft, protected from the public by strict rules of conservation and security guards.
As I sit here at the library table, I'm reminded of what a life in woodworking and furniture making is all about. For me it's about making fine, well thought out pieces, where every aspect has been carefully considered. Not as it is in highly engineered factory output, but from a craftsman's own hands, where each pass of the plane or cut of the chisel is done with intention and awareness of the unique beauty found in each and every tree. When commissioned to hand make a piece of furniture, one is honored by the opportunity to get to know another unique piece of wood and the flexibility to respond to the nuances found within.
Nakashima has written about his respect for the trees he chose for his furniture. The following says it all.
"Ultimately the woodworker's responsibility is to the tree itself, which has been sacrificed to live again in the woodworker's hands." ― George Nakashima
Well... with James Krenov being my greatest influence so far, it will be an interesting and rewarding experience for me as I discover what happens when I inject some Nakashima influence into the mix.
I can't wait!
Hej då, and happy shavings...