One's story can change your perspective or way of living, what can we ask more?
I want to write a story just like that, I want to tell a story that people can be inspired, can see different side of the world, make them believe this world isn't so bad to keep living.
Honesty, integrity, consistency - these are what I have to keep in mind.
The Soul of a Tree.
Sometimes the journey through life takes us around the world and ends in something simple - as simple as a tree.
At eighty-two,George Nakashima of Bucks County, Pennsylvania, has carved his integrity out of the tradition of wood. His work is known internationally - furniture with butterfly joints and undulating edges that preserve the character of the original timber, furniture with holes and cracks turned to artistic advantage, furniture in which the soul of the wood comes through.
"I'm interested in furniture because I think it's the closest relationship to wood that most people have. Each piece of wood that I have I use to its utmost utility and utmost beauty," he says. The wood may become the back of a sofa, a captain's chair, a desk, or a boardroom table. Special trees have special destinies. Once, says George, "I cam across this great tree that I felt could have no other end but to be made into a symbol of peace." It is now the altar at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City.
George's hair is thinning and his mustache is gray. He has a round, well-preserved face and his posture is slightly hunched. He presents an air of peace and detachment - a serenity that comes from knowing his place in a tradition far older than himself. "It's sort of your genes, this love of wood. I remember as a kid I used to chop quite a bit of wood because we burned wood for heat in our house in Seattle. When I would run into a very fine piece of wood, even though it was firewood, I'd put it aside to find a use for it later. This feeling toward wood is something that developed as I grew."
George's grandfather was a samurai warrior, and his father was "something of an adventurer," a man who emigrated to the United States and became a labor contractor for western railroads. George's mother came to this country as his father's "picture bride." They settled in Spokane, where George was born in 1905.
By the time George was fifteen, he was working summers on the railroad, laying ties and carrying rails in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest. "Have you ever heard of a gandy dancer? It's a kind of dancing movement that you do with a shovel to get the gravel underneath the ties. I made the handsome sum of twenty-seven cents an hour, as I remember. Which at that time wasn't bad. And I was able to save enough to more or less put myself through college."
During those summers, George's love of the forest grew. "On weekends I used to hike in the mountains, and very often fish for my food and stay overnight under a ledge or a tree. I used to hike rather long distances, crossing the foothills of Mount Olympus and seeing the glacier there. It was very hard going, and if you ever got your foot or leg caught in a rock, well, you'd probably be a goner. Nobody would ever find you. But the thrill of crossing a pass and looking down at deer grazing all over the place! Magnificent olympic elk - sometimes you'd scare them, and they'd rear up on their legs. They must have been at least ten feet tall. I guess they weren't that tall, but they seemed awfully tall to me."
In college, George studied forestry for two years, then switched to architecture. He did graduate work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, began to practice his profession, and then, in 1933, went to Paris to see "what was going on." He was twenty-eight and searching for something.
"Everybody was poor. Nobody had any money. And it was a wonderful, creative life. But gradually I felt that was not the answer. There'd be times when I would turn a corner in the crooked streets of Paris, and I'd have an overwhelming feeling of death. So I felt that I had to go on, to seek something else. I went to Japan, the land of my ancestors, and I spent five years there, working as an architect. I learned the traditions and appreciation of Japanese art and architecture.
"I remember designing some houses and becoming so interested in the construction that I would spend half a day just watching the men work. There would be people who were more skilled than others. When someone wold get a piece of work done, with the joints fitted perfectly and the proportions just right, he'd put it someplace where it could be seen. And everybody would gather around and praise him for his work. There was that sort of attitude. There wasn't any jealousy. It was just an appreciation of fine work.
" In 1936, I had an opportunity to do a design for the main building for the ashram of Sri Aurobindo in south India. I went there and I soon made friends and I became a follower of Sri Aurobindo. I became very much attached to his teachings, which are very simple and very profound. There's a type of life there that had a beauty and creativity that really didn't exist anyplace else in the world. And in my building I was given almost a free hand. I think everything I recommended was accepted.
"Well, I almost stayed for good, but I finally decided that I really should relate to the world. So I came out of India. At several points I almost didn't make it. Japan and China were at war,and I had to go through China to get back to Japan. I finally got to Shanghai, where I got on almost the last Japanese refugee ship out of Shanghai into Nagasaki, and made it back to Japan."
Once in Tokyo, George returned to architecture. In December 1939, he met his future wife at a party, Marion, a Japanese-American woman from Seattle who had spent the previous year in Australia and was teaching English in Tokyo. After dating for a few months. George asked her to marry him. He was thirty-five.
When the Nakashimas came back to the United states in 1940, modern architecture was in a period of exciting experimentation. "A friend and I decided to take a survey trip up and down the West Coast to see what was really being done. We saw this house by Frank Lloyd Wright under construction. I was used to the finest type of craftsmanship in Japan, I was appalled by the crudity of the framework. The bones of the structure were just banged together with nails. There was hardly nay exposition of the wood. And then the whole thing was covered up by what's called 'finished carpentry.' And it was actually a kind of stage set. I thought, if this was architecture as practiced by one of the greatest architectures in this country, I'd better start all over again.
"So I gave up my profession and got into the construction of little things with wood. That's how I got into furniture work. A priest let me use the basement of a church-owned building in Seattle. He let me use it free of charge and even helped me buy my first piece of machinery. But it was a hard beginning."
Things got even harder. Within weeks, the United States and Japan were at war. Although they had been born in America, George, Marion, and their six-week-old daughter were went to a Japanese internment camp.
"Right after Pearl Harbor, it was clear that something was going to happen," George recalls, "and there wasn't anything much we could do. It happened very swiftly. We were given I think about two weeks' notice that we should get out of our homes and just take what we could carry and gather at a certain point.
[ to be continued ]