The Soul of a Tree

George Nakashima, The Soul of a Tree: A Woodworker’s Reflections, Kodansha USA, 2011

There is a story in Japan of a young man from the country who went to the city and apprenticed himself to a woodworker. He was convinced that this was to be his life’s work, and his parents agreed. A simple fellow, he had great determination and capacity in his craft. Back in his village his parents awaited word of his progress. First a year, then another and finally a third passed, but still no word. The city was not so far, they thought. Why can’t he at least visit us? Then, after five years, an envelope arrived. Hastily opening it, they found no letter; all it contained was a long wood shaving, then feet long, neatly folded and perfect in every way, not a skip anywhere. The simplest of statements, it told all, like broad simple ink strokes in fine calligraphy. The father, immediately understanding, exclaimed: “Ah, my son has make it.” There was great joy in the household that evening.

 

Basically the woodworker is not driven by commerce, but by a need to create the best object he is capable of creating. Even if the object were to be destroyed when finished, the craftsman would still give the task his all.

Danish Modern

Andrew Hollingsworth, Danish Modern, Gibbs Smith 2008

With its infusions of the best of classical forms dating from antiquity through eighteenth-century design, the Danes were able to develop a style that paid homage to the Greeks, Egyptians, Chinese, English, Spanish, and Shakers while incorporating the Scandinavian ethos and remaining true to modern needs and uses.

Tansu: traditional Japanese cabinetry

Ty & Kiyoko Heineken, Tansu: traditional Japanese cabinetry, Weatherhill 2004

Comparisons cannot easily be made with the great decorative furniture traditions of Europe and China. Japanese chests are not stationary furniture. Rather, they can accurately be described as mobile cabinetry, used by the individual to keep personal possessions and clothing outside of the season for which they were intended, by the merchant to store important records and valuables, and by the family for ready access to objects of daily use. Tansu were kept in storehouses adjacent to homes and businesses, in storage rooms, on the raised area of a shop, and on some coastal ships for the owner or captain. With only a few exceptions, they were not visible in the house except at certain times and in specific situations. It is perhaps due to the fact that tansu have been judged according to the same criteria as conventional furniture that they have not until recently begun to gain international recognition.

The literal meaning of tansu(箪笥) is a box or a food container made of bamboo.

The Shaker Legacy

Christian Becksvoort, The Shaker Legacy : perspectives on an enduring furniture style, The Taunton Press 1998

When we study the furniture, we can’t point to any single design element or construction technique that is exclusively Shaker. The woodworkers didn’t do anything different than their brethren in the outside world, but they often did it better. Spiritually committed to both the process and the product of furniture making, they practiced scrupulous craftsmanship and built pieces that combined grace and function. Design, materials, and construction came together in a spirit that is unquestionably “Shaker.”