George Nakashima, Woodworker


Virtual Cinema Thu, Nov 19 5:00 PM - Thu, Dec 3 11:59 PM
Introduction TBA
Q&A after the film with: Director John Nakashima
Film Info
Run Time:115 min
Release Year:2020
Production Country:USA
Original Langauge:English



Celebrated woodworker George Nakashima became famous for his slabs of "imperfect" wood, full of natural holes. The film reveals the personal journey he took to become one of the leading figures in the American craft movement. Nakashima's grandfather was a samurai. George was a nisei (a first generation child born in the US), and spent time in a brutal internment camp with his wife and young daughter during World War II.

After finishing his Masters of Architecture at MIT during the Depression, he set out on a decade-long journey seeking a reason for his existence. His journey took him to Europe, to northern Africa, and to Asia where he used his training and worked as a modern architect. In Japan, he absorbed the aesthetic of Zen and the spirituality Shintos find in nature. In India, he found the key to creativity in a Yogi's ashram. The seeker returned to America to become a woodworker and use all he had learned from his travels. His distinctive ways of thinking about nature and integrating it into his woodworking led Nakashima to became a leader of the American craft movement. Today, 30 years after his death, his influence and finely-crafted designs continue to inspire architects and designers around the world.


John Nakashima


John Nakashima, Senior Producer/Director, West Virginia Public Broadcasting and Independent Filmmaker has produced, directed, shot, edited documentaries and music programs for West Virginia Public Television since 1977. His work explores West Virginia culture in the widest sense – including visual & performing arts, traditional & modern culture, historical documentaries, and contemporary issues. The First 1,000 Days: Investing in WV Children When It Counts (2015) is his latest full-length documentary. It received a regional Emmy and for that documentary, he was awarded the Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers in West Virginia. In 2013, he was awarded the West Virginia Filmmaker of the Year award by the WV Filmmakers Festival. Nakashima has edited five documentaries that have won regional Emmys in a variety of documentary categories, including Frank Kearns: American Correspondent, the story of a CBS foreign correspondent, later accused of working for the CIA during the Cold War. He edited West Virginia: Road to Statehood a history of the only state created during the Civil War. He produced/directed/edited many traditional music documentaries including Cifftop, The Vandalia Gathering, and Blind Alfred Reed who was one of the artists recorded at the Bristol Sessions. He produced many music performance programs including a series of early HD programs for the NPR


Directors Statement
I had an uncle in Pennsylvania who has been well-known for his work since the 1940s. He was a woodworker, and we had several pieces of his furniture throughout our house. Our coffee table was a solid slab of walnut, with a big hole on the right side that years of the harshness of nature had created. My uncle's approach froze those years of growing and decay, allowing people to live with that moment in nature. Both long sides of the table were the layer of wood just under the bark, irregular and anything but flat. We were warned never to set a glass on top of the table since for kids it was inevitable that you'd misjudge where it was flat and where was>
On top of the table was always a stack of the most recent magazines about my uncle, featuring long articles with several photos of him and his work, including Life, Look, the Smithsonian, National Geographic, and his most recent handmade catalog.


He was my father's oldest brother. George Nakashima was the only famous person I had ever gotten to meet and listen to growing up. Every few years we would go to his large compound of several buildings that were showrooms, the office, some mysterious places, woodworking shops, and places to hold his growing collection of wood. Each trip I would discover more.


It was more than twenty years ago after I had become a documentary-maker with West Virginia Public Broadcasting, that I realize no one had made a full-length documentary about my uncle. The definitive documentary had somehow never been made. I remember when National Geographic made a "short" they used in the first season of their new show, Explorer. This indicated to me that the major documentary was on its way. George created and built many incredible objects and buildings over the next several years. But as far as an in-depth documentary, nothing happened.


It became apparent to me that I had a good chance to make Uncle George's documentary. I was making it for my extended family, my parents who were now gone, for Japanese Americans, for people who love nature and natural beauty, and for those fascinated by the countless forms of creativity.


When I began to research, I gradually discovered that Uncle George's story was largely untold. It was the story of a seeker, who actually found his answers on the other side of the world to life's deep questions. He returned home armed with an entirely new perspective and new understandings. He brought to America, and in fact the world, a new approach to creating with nature through his own synthesis of his unique knowledge and beliefs.




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