Ode to wood

A couple’s lifelong George Nakashima collection on auction at Freeman’s

Design Other
A couple's lifelong George Nakashima collection on auction at Freeman's. Pictured here: Lot 28, George Nakashima's Fine Conoid Bench, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1979 (Courtesy Freeman's).
A couple's lifelong George Nakashima collection on auction at Freeman's. Pictured here: Lot 28, George Nakashima's Fine Conoid Bench, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1979 (Courtesy Freeman's).

Known as perhaps the most diverse collections of works by George Nakashima, the Roth Collection chronicles a relationship that one family forged over three decades with the artist. The George Nakashima Roth collection recalls the family’s intimate visits with the artist to select furniture for their home—and now they are up for sale at the Freeman’s Design auction on October 8th.

As the story goes, longtime couple Arnold “Archie” and Corinne “Cookie” Roth grew up primarily in New York in the 1920s and 1930s, met through mutual friends, married in 1950, and settled in Brooklyn. With humble beginnings, Corrine, the science teacher, taught in the New York public school system and Archie, an engineer, became the part-time owner of a small die cutting business. In 1966, they relocated to Livingston, New Jersey, where they remained through their lives. Fueled by a mutual devotion to modern design, the pair collected works that were indicative of their taste: wooden furniture that would be categorized by the auction houses as organic modernist.

From the early turned-leg coffee table ordered in 1961 to the monolithic bench and cushion chairs from the Conoid series (dating to 1979 and 1980 respectively), Nakashima’s work was handpicked by the Roths over the span of three decades. Each piece is a part of the story that unfolds, surveying Nakashima’s evolving design sensibility and craftsmanship – the fusion and jutxaposition of two incongruous cultures, American vernacular and traditional Japanese craftsmanship.

© John Loengard

(John Loengard, George Nakashima. 1969. George Nakashima: American\Asian American\Japanese American, National Portrait Gallery, United States\Pennsylvania\Bucks\New Hope. http://npg.si.edu/object/npg_NPG.2004.140)

(Courtesy Freeman's)

Lot 69: Set Of Four New Chairs, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1965 (Courtesy Freeman’s).

His marriage of natural materials and hand craftsmanship illustrates his vision of the construction of a chair: function, beauty, and simplicity.

When you look at Nakashima’s creations, you can see the the influence of American arts and crafts furniture, specifically the Windsor chair and the “captain’s chair.” The Windsor influence is most apparent in the Straight Back chair, the Mira chair, the Four-Legged chair, the New chair, and to a lesser extent, the Conoid chair (the armchairs are a streamlined form of what is commonly referred to as the captain’s chair).

(Courtesy Freeman's)

Lot 24: Set Of Six Conoid Chairs, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1968-83 (Courtesy Freeman’s).

The New and Conoid chairs remain aesthetically tied to the Windsor, juxtaposed with a contemporary-looking Japanese yoke back and crest rail. In this poetic gesture, the Conoid chair became a modern design icon inspired by the 1924 and 1927 cantilevered chairs designed by Heinz and Bodo Rasch. Eventually, this unexpected and expressive combination of Eastern, Western, and modern influences came to shape each chair and evolve into the distinctly idiosyncratic design that would characterize the work of George Nakashima.

(Courtesy Freeman's)

Lot 33: Pair Of Arm Chairs, New Hope, Pa, Circa 1967 (Courtesy Freeman’s).

(Courtesy Freeman's)

Lot 84: Bench With Back, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1961 (Courtesy Freeman’s).

(Courtesy Freeman's)

Lot 30: New Chair With Arms And Rockers, New Hope, Pennsylvania, 1967 (Courtesy Freeman’s).

You can view the complete catalogue online here. Freeman’s: Design features works by George Nakashima, René Lalique, Eero Saarinen, Finn Juhl, and others. In advance of the auction, you can browse lots before live bidding begins on Sunday, October 8th at 12:00pm ET.

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