Friday, October 22, 2010

George Nakashima was inspired by Shaker furniture

Golconde, Nakashima, Shakers, Quakers, ...

George Nakashima started out in the field of architecture and later shifted to woodworking and furniture making. He assisted in construction of Golconde and designed the furniture for it. In one of his books he wrote that he was inspired by Shaker furniture. This led me to find out more about it. Got more details from the net and finally some rare books from USA on Shakers. There the designs clearly matched what is in Golconde.
To my knowledge this has never been documented by any of the books or records on Golconde, or even the Ashram in its furniture department or Harpagon workshop. Some people knew it is from Nakashima, not beyond that. 
Later he got influenced by Japanese or other designs, these were more fancy and difficult to make, which reflect in the later period of furniture made by Harpagon workshop.
These two design patterns were prevalent in all furniture made in the ashram and used in the ashram, till the 1980's, when Auroform designs took over, which also are partly influenced by Japanese designs, and they dominate till date.
The Shaker designs are plain, uncluttered and functional. They are to be seen, studied and used to appreciate them.
Shakers used to make these furniture themselves and had an aim of perfection in daily living and work, so their furniture, though very plain are perfect in workmanship, the originals today command for a single simple chair with wood seat and back over a lakh of rupees. This is a tribute to be their excellence.

After some period came across by chance some information on an excelllent furniture workshop in Chennai. Contacted the owner couple, Reshma and Deepak Chengappa, their unit is known as Shakti Ganapati ( They replied that they are influenced by Nakashima and copy his designs and exacting workmanship, though they had not seen Golconde furniture. Just Nakashima's books, in Vak bookshop.
Here too they have never publicised the fact that their inspiration is Nakashima, do not think people know it. What surprised me is how in both cases the original inspiration is sort of unknown.
The work they do has the same pursuit of perfection. A piece takes 6 months to make. All furniture is made without using any nails or screws and has only wooden joinery, very difficult. The finish is natural and shows all the beauty and defects of wood, so one has to be extra careful in choosing the wood. The initial polish is tung oil, imported from usa, which is rubbed on the wood which soaks it up, and gives a permanent polish base. They are working to very exacting standards and technique, which makes it expensive but a piece of art.
Do not know of anyone doing something similar in India. Would welcome feedback on this, if there is someone else.

On Shakers etc. 
The Shakers are an offshoot of Christianity, were persecuted in Europe and shifted to USA, in late 1700s. They had community life which was simple and had self sufficiency, everything was made by them, and with perfection. The picture of their daily use articles are a study in perfection. The few books on them, difficult to get, are very interesting. They were always a very small and fringe sect. Last read that less than a dozen are alive in a community and soon, will cease to exist as a sect. In time of male domination in Christianity they were led by a woman (Mother Ann Lee). Some Shaker sayings:
a) Do your work as if you had a thousand years to live and as if you were to die tomorrow.
b) Beauty rests on utility.
c) Anything may, with strict propriety, be called perfect, which perfectly answers the purpose for which it was designed.
d) There is great beauty in harmony.

Another Christian sect, which is there till date worldwide, though in small numbers is Quakers. They too have interesting community living and beliefs, main is freedom and equality of mankind. Due to this belief,  they helped Indian freedom movement from UK and many quakers helped Gandhi in UK  and also were influenced by him and came to India to work here. Like Sam (Satyanand) Stokes, helped Himachal Pradesh with apple plantations, and many others. The last known, who some years back passed away was eco architect Laurie Baker in Kerala. On him Ram Guha wrote an article: The Last Quaker in India. Wrote to Ram Guha to know more about quakers, but he himself did not know about them much.
They are very industrious and run large businesses, as per their beliefs, something admirable, they do not shun money or wealth, but lead very simple lives. The most famous brand of their sect is: Quaker Oats (ironically does not belong to Quakers now), now sold in India. It is actually healthy. Books on Quakers are interesting to read such as: Encounters with Silence, etc. difficult to get, as few read them.

Something similar to Shaker community living, is still there is pockets in USA, are Amish. They lead community life, use no electricity, cars, are self sufficient community and grow, make, everything themselves. Now are also a tourist attraction. Some idea of them can be had from the thriller film: Witness, with Harrison Ford.
Their sense of forgiveness and duty in a recent/few years back case struck me: A outside man shot many in an Amish community school, and was killed later. His widow and child had nowhere to go and were poor. The Amish in an exemplary action took both of them into their community.  (which community, sect, religion, spiritual place will do this, theory is easy but not in practice)

Quakers are a bit more tuned to normal living in cities, but Shakers and Amish and some other similar communities, mostly in USA run away from Europe, have similar ideals. Being totally non violent, living with nature, shun all modern gadgets, do not interfere with anyone, no conversions, do not seek donations, live with what they have, grow or make. They have quirky and strange beliefs of Christ and religion, so are small in numbers and might slowly disappear. Except may be Quakers who are present across the world.
Everyone in USA and Europe thinks of them as bizarre, quirky, you name it;
There is lots to be learned from their work ethic, attitude to other people, they never fight in any wars, harmony with nature living etc. Information on them is difficult to get, as they are not very popular, and reclusive. Whatever books etc I got is impressive to go through.

There is always lots to be learned from anyone leading a pursuit of perfection.
Indians and devotees of various ashrams here, (incl. Sri Aurobindo Ashram/Auroville), have something to learn from them. Leaving alone for a moment the claim that our God and knowledge is greater than everybody's, and we have all the answers to save and change the world (give these glorious and ancient benefits of ours a rest for sometime to enable to rejuvenate themselves), and learn something else even if it is funny. Funnily these communities do not proclaim anything or superiority and work quietly, which is what is best.  

Some people never learn anything because they understand everything too soon.   - Alexander Pope

Any information on these sects and pursuit of perfection is welcome. By Anonymous

[Activists' daughters raise hope and funds
The Times of Trenton -
... was installed and consecrated in 1986 for North America; The third table was placed in the Unity Pavilion in the City of Peace, Auroville, India, ...]

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