University Seminar Visits George Nakashima Woodworker

By Purnell T. Cropper | February 10, 2012

Students in the University Seminar Exploring Entrepreneurship in the Arts, taught by Visiting Assistant Professor of Art and Design Abbey Ryan ’03, had a private tour of the grounds of George Nakashima Woodworkerin New Hope, Pa., on Feb. 3. Nakashima’s daughter, artist and architect Mira Nakashima, met with students and shared personal accounts of the life and work of her father as an artist, architect, woodworker and entrepreneur. She then began showing students the grounds, architecture, studios and show rooms, all while highlighting the ins and outs of Nakashima’s thriving wood furniture business.

“George Nakashima was a true, relatively local, entrepreneur who made a living for himself and his family through his business,” says International Studies major Ashley Trump. “We saw how his work lives on and learned how difficult—yet possible—it is to be an entrepreneur.”

During the visit, students were especially honored to view the black walnut wood that will used to create Nakashima’s fourth Sacred Peace Table, which will be housed in Capetown, South Africa, at the Desmond Tutu Peace Center. Mira says it was her father’s dream to provide “Altars of Peace” for each of the seven continents through the Nakashima Foundation for Peace. Constructed from a magnificent pair of matched black walnut, the first three “Peace Altars” reside at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City (1986), the Russian Academy of Art in Moscow (1995) and the Unity Pavilion of the “City of Peace” Auroville, India (1996).

Students in the class described the visit as inspirational and spoke admiringly of Nakashima’s passion and perseverance to keep creating, working and expanding his ideas. “It was entrepreneurship up close,” says Communications major Katelyn Monaghan. “I can see how taking risks and working hard is part of an entrepreneur’s experience.

At the studio and workshop International Studies major Brittany Witcher observed “art being turned into a living. Where I originally thought that it was not possible, and that all artists who are subject to the demands of the masses have to compromise their love in order to survive—instead I found the opposite true here. The work that Mira and her crew accomplished each day was a celebration. They were celebrating the life of her father. They were celebrating the nature that surrounded them. They were celebrating the individual stories of the customers who were searching for ‘that special piece’ to make their house more of a home.”

Reflecting on the trip, Graphic Design major Leanda Helms adds, “I learned how to be persistent when working towards something you love so dearly. If you find a passion you can’t live without, stick with it, don’t ever give up, and don’t ever let anyone tell you that you can’t do it.”