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Nakashima's Leg

comments (8) December 7th, 2009 in blogs, videos

Ed_Pirnik Ed Pirnik, Senior Web Producer
thumbs up 57 users recommend

Video Length: 7:22
Produced by: Ed Pirnik

Special thanks to:

Peter Gedrys
Professional Finisher
Architectural Finishes

Peter Van Beckum
Furniture Maker
Unionville, CT

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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posted in: blogs, videos, chair, walnut, lathe, tenon, wedge, George Nakashima

Comments (8)

Brint Brint writes: Thanks so much for posting -- a fascinating, instructive, and illuminating account.

Posted: 11:50 am on November 8th

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: Hi gizmoman: I have a copy of Hoadley's book sitting right here at my desk. I'll see what I can find and post more information in the comments section.

Cheers and thanks!


Posted: 9:17 am on December 28th

gizmoman gizmoman writes: I build chairs and repair older chairs too. I would like to suggest that the reason George Nakashima made a saw cut on the top of each tenon was not only to make a tight fit but to maintain the integrity of the glue joint even through stressful humidity changes. The glue joint around the perimeter of the tenon can remain intact while the center cut opens up slightly. There was probably no glue or wedge in that center cut and since Mr. Nakashima knew this technique he probably also oriented the leg grain for the least movement as well. A real craftsman. There is mention of this technique in Bruce Hoadley's Understanding Wood book, I believe.
Posted: 9:23 pm on December 24th

shooter2 shooter2 writes: It's always a pleasure to watch a true craftsman at work.
Posted: 5:40 pm on December 24th

Ed_Pirnik Ed_Pirnik writes: ClifP - that's a wild story. It reminds of the house my father grew up in. It was a simple two-story row house in a blue collar city in New Jersey - probably built about 1900-1910. When they bought the place in the early fifties, all the moldings were COVERED in goopy white paint. It took my grandparents and my father about five years to completely strip the house and shellac everything. They did an incredible job - as I never saw the slightest remnant of paint on that wood!
Posted: 9:47 am on December 9th

troys troys writes: My reply was about the church not the chair restoration:)

Posted: 1:09 am on December 9th

ClifP ClifP writes: This was a great video, thanks for putting it together for us. Just to add a "damage" story to the discussion, when I bought my house 17 years ago, I liked its unusual architecture, but everything was painted. It wasn't until we moved in and looked at the original plans that we discovered it was designed by Gustav Stickley. After several years of work we finally got the white and green paint off of all the beautiful chestnut wainscoting and beams, and I've replaced most of the beams and posts that were removed. All but one of the fixtures was given away becuase the previous owner was tired of them I bet he gave away something that would fetch over $30,000 today. But Stickley wasn't fashionable in the '70s, whereas white paint and shag carpet were, and that's what we found here.
Its a dilemma - do you preserve something, or do you live in it and make it fit your wants. It will always be an issue. I hate to think what some future owner will do to this house.
Posted: 11:04 pm on December 8th

troys troys writes:
That is a pretty appalling story It is amazing how little people are aware of what they have and the damage they can do. I hope the damage was done out of ignorance. It is a shame that the members of the church did not know the importance of the work and did not keep the church aware of it, it reminds me of the Taliban in Afghanistan destroying the status because they thought they conflicted with Islam. Of course that is an extreme comparison but what that church did is a shame.
Posted: 10:02 pm on December 8th

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