george nakashima and burlwood furniture design

it strikes me as an anomaly that we should highly prize furniture made with burlwood.  george nakashima, american architect turned furniture maker, was famous for his inclusion of this type of wood in his designs.  

burls (brit. burs or burrs) are malignant abnormalities that form on some trees when they have been under some unusual stress from disease.

burr on an old scottish black poplar

burr on an old scottish black poplar

burr on a larch tree in scotland

burr on a larch tree in scotland

not the graceful elven tree forms forms we expect.  they remind you of the hunchback of notre dame.  yet when sliced or carefully detached from the normal wood (this takes a lot of work and care because of the twisted, hardened nature of the burl) the veneer, the table tops, or the naturally sculpted forms that emerge are rare treasures.  

burlwood bench @ artcollector-usa

burlwood bench @ artcollector-usa

burlwood bench @ artcollector-usa

burlwood bench @ artcollector-usa

nakashima dining table

burlwood and glass end table @ TSandCompany

burlwood and glass end table @ TSandCompany

cabinet, george nakishima, @ treadwaygallery.com

cabinet, george nakishima, @ treadwaygallery.com

why is this not the case with people?  we shun abnormal people.  we stare at and then pull back from people with scars or injuries.  we do not relish visits to hospitals and nursing homes.  our tv screens are filled with the beautifully perfect people only.  our tv news anchors are the ken and barbie dolls we love.  

yet my experience is that there is a deep strength and beauty in the hearts of the not normal.  i would rather their company than many more outwardly perfect people i know.  nakashima had a soft heart for the suffering.  i suspect he had suffered himself at some points in his life.  maybe this explains his long successful work with not normal wood.

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immigrating furniture: granny’s kitchen table

ripon, yorkshire, 1969 (i am 6), with my cheerful enterprising granny in her chilly kitchen, sitting at the sturdy little work table. warm fresh brown bread thickly sliced waits to be spread with the best combination in the world – rich english butter and marmite.

with a twinkle in her eye, granny shows me how to swirl the marmite, plenty of it, into the cold pot of butter that has appeared from the cool larder’s shelves (no need for a fridge in yorkshire, i recall). we layer the precious gold black concoction onto our slices and enjoy the happy snack together while she chats about her travels and her paintings. the table moved to my father’s kitchen when she died, and now that my father has died, my mother is moving to america.  all sorts of interior design possibilities await her in her american home and she plans to bring little with her, to start fresh.  but the kitchen table is immigrating too, by popular family demand. sometimes you cannot separate furniture, though plain and unnecessary, from memories. the people were precious, so the furniture holds on to part of what they were for you.