Special thanks to:
Peter Van Beckum
It’s human nature to take for granted, those things a person grows up with. On any given Sunday morning 20-plus years ago, you’d have found me seated in church with my mother, across the aisle from an older gentlemen who I knew had constructed the pew on which I was seated and the alter at which our local priest was delivering mass. Aside from those two bits of information, I had no reason to believe this fellow was any more interesting than the priest, whose droning on and on about topics my young ears had no interest in, caused me to daydream about any number of things.
Over time however, as my interest in carpentry and furniture began to grow, I realized just how influential a fellow George Nakashima had become in the sphere of fine furniture. Years later, long after Nakashima’s death, it came to my attention that a new parish priest had decided to lower that beautiful alter by cutting its legs and thus, forever altering its proportions. But it didn’t stop there. The church pews Nakashima had lovingly crafted, had been the recipients of a new coat of oil every year, lovingly applied by the congregants who used them on a weekly basis. It was a beautiful ritual and a demonstration of enormous respect. Unfortunately however, the new local clergy saw fit to polyurethane the pews and cover the hand carved crucifixes with red paint.
The story begs the question: what becomes of a piece of art after it has left the hands of the artist? Technically speaking, those church pews and that alter had become the physical property of the church. Given that sort of situation, does an artist like Nakashima have a right to protest these sorts of alterations?
The question came up recently when I had the opportunity to follow the repair of a Nakashima lounge chair that had suffered a broken leg. When dealing with a piece bearing the kind of provenance of a Nakashima original, the question becomes whether to “restore” or “repair.” You be the judge.
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