The Soul of a Tree, a woodworker’s reflections, by George Nakashima



What an engrossing book! Part philosophy, part cultural history, an intriguing walk through the mind of a man who was one of the preeminent designers and furniture makers of the 20th century. Filled with photographs and beautiful sketches of trees/wood/tools, Nakashima shares his personal history and beliefs alongside his approach to, and reverence for, working with wood. His designs are functional and beautiful and it is clear that he collaborates intimately with his materials, some of which he brings from woods to workshop. Left me wanting to head east and tour his studio – still functioning, still producing, in the capable hands of his daughter. To read of his intense commitment to bringing the life of the tree forward into his projects was just so pleasurable.

I should add that I am a tad obsessed with wood, with trees. Once, an owner of a business that sold hardwoods chased me down as I was leaving to give me a sample of lacewood that I had been fondling the entire time we spoke. It still sits by my bed.

9 comments on “The Soul of a Tree, a woodworker’s reflections, by George Nakashima”

  1. Circle of life– from tree to furniture– clearly an artist who appreciated the whole dang thing, and even passed it on to the next gen– a fine example of how to conduct one’s self!

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  2. The Soul of a Tree, just thinking about this brings me peace, a calm mind. I think I saw a piece about Nakashima and his daughter on television, and was quite drawn to their work. So glad you’ve brought my attention to this book, JNaz. Love that gift of lacewood. I, too, have a gift of wood by my side, on my desk. A friend commissioned a wood craftsman to make hearts from an assortment of woods. These hearts are of a size that fit the hand in a most satisfying way. He keeps them in a wooden bowl on a table at his front door, and when visitors leave he asks them to choose a heart to take home. I chose one with a lot of character: much had happened in the life of this tree.

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    1. Whew, I was wracking my brain to remember the wood JNaz. It’s spalted maple. I kept thinking “psalted, psalted, no that’s not it” but I did get a lot of hits about psalters. 🙂


  3. Nakashima’s life and work is a testimony to a deep love for nature. It bought to mind W.H. Auden’s Ode to Our Unrequited Love for the Universe–especially the line, “If equal affection cannot be, / Let the more loving one be me.”

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