Nakashima studio (Saturday, July 7)

Today, we visited the studio of famed furniture maker George Nakashima in New Hope, PA, where his daughter, Mira, continues to make furniture in the same tradition. Mira began our tour by telling us about her father’s life and work.

Mira Nakashima talks about her father.

The first building we visited was the wood barn, filled with enormous slabs of wood cut from whole trees and stacked together for drying in the sequence in which they were cut from the log. Mira explained the challenges of storing, keeping track of, and accessing the wood, much of which is stored for many years.

The wood barn.

Stacked slabbed trees in the wood barn.

Mira talks to us about the wood.

Many slabs were marked in chalk with customer names, measurements, cut lines, and other information.

A marked slab of wood.

The door of the wood barn.

This dining set was in a residence built by Nakashima in the early 1970s.

A dining set in the so-called bath house, because of its large Japanese bath.

A detail of the dining table.

What is known as the art building is also the home of the Nakashima Foundation for Peace.

Detail of the exterior of the art building.

Chairs in the art building.

The silver appearance of the table edges in this photograph is caused by the camera flash. The edges are actually the dark, barkless natural surface of the trunk.

A table in the art building.

Notice how the concrete wall at the top of the stairs follows the same line as the right edge of the stairs.

The stairs in the art building.

I liked the way the stairs looked viewed sideways just as well.

The stairs viewed sideways.

The loft in the art building held samples of many types of chairs.

Upstairs in the art building.

Jean-François enjoyed speaking French with Kevin Nakashima, who learned it in high school from a native French speaker.

Kevin Nakashima with Jean-François.

The pond outside the showroom had very vocal frogs among the water lilies. I thought their croaking was some sort of squawk from a walkie-talkie until I squatted down and looked.


Friday, July 6

The atmosphere in the shop is very playful. Everyone is engaged in a fresh way.

Sean’s work is as unpredictable as ever. This morning he had cut beads into the exterior of the osage orange piece on the lathe.

Sean's osage orange vessel, now beaded.

Later, this is how the piece had developed: Sean colored the interior bright scarlet. Then he cut the beads nearly apart on the bandsaw and inserted ebony wedges to open up and bend the form. Stay tuned: this piece is still evolving.

The next evolution of Sean's osage orange piece.

This is how far he has come on the first piece he started, the oak ring sculpture. Here, he is holding in position three of the carved pieces. A fourth is not shown.

Sean's oak piece.

Siegfried has turned some deep bowls of box elder in addition to the wave forms he continues work on.

A box elder bowl being turned by Siegfried.

I don’t know, but judging from their shapes, I suspect that these bowls may be intended for a collaboration with Jean-François.

Three vessels by Siegfried.

Peter helped Siegfried out by cutting a stack of poplar for Siegfried to turn into waves.

A stack of cut poplar waits to be turned into waves by Siegfried.

Jean-François turned another form for a new cement vessel. He has textured the interior (for the exterior of the cement bowl) with an Arbortech.

A new mold for a cement bowl.

He also continues with his oak bowl series. Here, he is parting off the second bowl.

Jean-François finishes the second of his recent oak bowls.

Peter manages to get some of his own work done despite spending most of his days helping everyone else. Here is his first wall piece, made from used concrete forms. The oak frame was colored using Jean-François’s vinegar-and-steel-wool technique.

A wall piece by Peter.

While Peter was busy helping others, Jane tried on a few of his honey-locust-and-cable pieces for size. I’m not sure Peter has realized that his work is wearable.

Two wall pieces by Peter displayed as wearable art.

Peter also pitched in to try to repair a dripping air-conditioning unit.

Peter as HVAC repairman.

Then we talked him into doing another master class in cement casting. He added cable segments and glitter (are you paying attention, Hilary?) to this sample.

Peter sets up a cement form.

Pouring the cement.

Jane used a piece of chainsawn honey locust to cast another sample. Siegfried added a wave/whale’s tail.

Another experiment in cement.

I tried my hand at forming a freehand bowl over a pile of shavings.

I tried a freeform bowl.

After removing the first sample from the form, Peter used water and a wire brush to expose the cable before the cement had finished setting.

Exposing the cable in the cast sample.

On the left, you can see the cast chainsawn texture from the second sample. I will burn out the shavings from my sample after the cement has set overnight. I didn’t achieve much of a bowl shape, but it did give me a feel for the process for a more serious attempt.

The pieces we cast.

Jean-François’s third vessel will be a hollow form. To cast the interior, he turned a form from a two-inch block of Styrofoam.

Jean-François turns a form from Styrofoam.

He then suspended the form from a stick using double-stick tape . . .

The assembled form for Jean-François's next cement vessel.

and mixed and poured the cement. This mix is gray, in between the white and black of the first two bowls. Tomorrow, he will use acetone or lacquer thinner to dissolve the Styrofoam form, leaving a void in its place.

The poured vessel.

Thursday, July 5

Yesterday and today were big days for Jean-François. Here is what I found on Jean-François’s workbench this morning.

Jean-François's first cement bowl.Another view of Jean-François's cement bowl.

He has had the idea for cement bowls in his mind for five years now. Beginning yesterday, he is seeing his vision fulfilled.

He proceeded to make a second bowl after a trip to Home Depot for some black cement color. He used the same mold as for the first one, but he altered it by turning and carving some decoration into the forms for this bowl. You can see the horizontal grooves in the outer form, which will become beads on the cement bowl. You can also see some carved facets on the inner form. The inner form is suspended and held in place by screws in the top crosspiece of wood. Oil has been applied to the wood surfaces to aid in releasing the set cement.

Pouring the cement into the mold.

Peter helped him with the whole process. Here, Peter is tapping the outer form to release bubbles from the cement. This doesn’t get rid of all of them, but it reduces their number and perhaps their size.

Tapping out the bubbles.

Then it was a matter of waiting. Finally, after six or so hours, Jean-François and Peter began trying to release the bowl from the mold. Tapping didn’t work, though it had for the first bowl. The texturing of the wood for this second bowl made the release more difficult. Jean-François ended up turning the assemblage (this was easy to do, because the outer form was still mounted on a faceplate), first cutting away most of the inner form, then carefully chiseling the remainder loose. Finally, the remaining form came loose and lifted out.

Chiseling the inner form out.Removing the inner form.

The inside of the new cement bowl.

You can see the grain impressions left by the wood, as well as bubbles that didn’t get released. In the background is the inner form that was removed.

Jean-François also thinned the outer form on the lathe. He and Peter then split what was left of the outer form and peeled it from the cement.

Removing the outer form.Removing the bottom of the outer form.

Jean-François will give what remains of the forms to Sean to use.

What is left of the forms.

The pair of bowls. Jean-François will make a third cement bowl tomorrow.

Jean-François's two cement bowls.

What Jean-François worked on while he waited for the cement to set was this oak bowl and another, to go with the red-and-black one from yesterday. He painted the second one with white acrylic and burned it to blacken the ridges.

Another oak bowl.

When Peter wasn’t working with Jean-François yesterday and today, he was working on wall pieces using blocks of the wood he is using in his bench—which is not cherry but honey locust, everyone agrees—and cable he brought with him from home.

Some of Peter's wall pieces.

More of Peter's wall pieces.

This is an experiment by Peter and Jean-François from yesterday. They formed cement over a pile of chainsaw shavings and then burned the shavings out with a torch. I love the texture and the idea of a freeform cement bowl.

An experiment in cement and shavings.

Working in his own corner, Sean did more carving on the components for his oak sculpture.

Components of Sean's oak sculpture.

He also worked on turning a deep bowl of osage orange.

Sean's osage orange bowl.

Siegfried continued making wave forms for a collaborative piece.

Siegfried turns more inside-out shapes.

As for me, after watching the cement pouring by Jean-François and Peter, and servicing the electric chainsaw with Jane and help from Sean, I started a vessel from an unknown wood with a large split down the side. Tomorrow, Jean-François is going to teach me some texturing techniques with the Arbortech, which I plan to use on this new piece. I also did more carving on the lip of the pear hollow vessel.

A small-town American holiday

Today, Siegfried and I accepted Jane’s invitation to visit Swarthmore, PA, to see how one small town celebrates Independence Day. It was an experience as new to me as it was to Siegfried. We had a delightful time.

We arrived in time for the pet portion of the parade.

One entry in the pet section of the Swarthmore parade.

Next came the small bikes and trikes.

Part of the small bikes and trikes section.

I particularly liked this variation on the tricycle.

He ain't heavy, he's my brother.

The winner of the small bikes and trikes division accepted congratulations and her award from the announcer.

First-place winner for decorated trikes and small bikes.

The larger decorated bicycles followed.

Larger decorated bikes.

The floats waited in the wings while the bicyclists proceeded. The pioneers in front won the float competition. Unfortunately, you can’t quite see here the covered wagon (led by a stuffed horse) that they were pulling.

The floats await their entrance.

Another float headed back down the parade route after the judging.

Another float.

The highlight of the celebration was the demonstration by the volunteer fire fighters.

There was a slight delay when the flare to be used to light the fire couldn’t be lit (is it a bad thing when firefighters have trouble starting a fire?), but once it was, the drama began. First, a fire started on the stove behind the distracted cook, who was busy talking on the phone instead of tending the stove.

A fire starts behind the distracted cook.

We saw how fire can spread if you try to run outside with a burning pan full of grease.

What not to do with a greasy pan on fire.

The fire truck arrived, sirens screaming.

The fire truck arrives on the scene.

A firefighter stepped in to douse the fire using an extinguisher.

Fighting the fire.

Unfortunately, the fire wouldn’t go out.


After several more attempts, the fire was finally put out.

A few more tries get the fire out.

After this dramatic demonstration, we headed to the home of friends for an all-American cookout with grilled hamburgers and hotdogs, watermelon, and a delicious blueberry-and-rhubarb pie.

An all-American cookout.

Good food and good company.

A big thanks to Jane and our hosts for sharing this experience with us.

Tuesday, July 3

It was a fairly quiet day at the shop after our big day yesterday.

Jean-François turned another oak bowl with some interesting coloring: a base of red dye augmented with acrylic and other elements, and black over that with vinegar, then wax.

Jean-François's new oak bowl.

He also started turning bowls of ailanthus that he will use to cast a cement bowl. I can’t wait to see how this goes.

Sean continued work on his Cryptomeria bowl. After painting and dying the textured exterior, he further hollowed and carved the interior, then sanded it.

Sean's Cryptomeria bowl.Another view of Sean's Cryptomeria bowl.

Sean sands the interior of his Cryptomeria bowl.

Siegfried worked on a large project on which he would like all of us to collaborate, involving turned wave forms combined into a larger wave. Here, he plays with some of the forms before planning his next move.

Siegfried plays with turned wave forms.

He later consulted with Peter about the project.

Peter discusses the wave piece with Siegfried.

Peter went about making a frame for a wall piece using some of his used concrete forms. In the course of using the table saw, he found the shop’s push stick inadequate, so he made his own in the style of his alma mater, RIT (Rochester Institute of Technology).

Peter's superior push stick.

I got off to a slow start, because I was sore from hauling logs. I warmed up by helping Jane inventory lumber, then finished the pear bowl I started yesterday. I hadn’t intended to leave the bark on, but it didn’t come off during turning as I expected, and I like it, so for now it stays. I’ll see what happens as the bowl dries before doing the carving I had planned. (I also included the pith near the foot and am waiting to see if it cracks open during drying.)

The magic of masking tape.

My natural-edge pear bowl.The photo above illustrates the magic of masking tape. I have the bowl reversed on a domed block with a foam pad in between. I used the tailstock to position the bowl and kept it in place to turn as much of the foot as possible. But to remove the interior of the foot, I had to move the tailstock. The masking tape miraculously holds if you tape the piece well and make only light cuts. If you try this at home, be prepared to react quickly if anything starts to move. And don’t blame me if you choose to take the risk and you get a catch.

Monday, July 2: Another field trip to the wood dump

A play day! Gus, Jane, Jean-François, Siegfried, and I took Peter to the wood dump, and we loaded up again. I confess I went overboard, but, hey, someone will use the wood, right?

Here is Gus, master chainsaw artist, at work.

The master at work.

Peter proved himself pretty adept with a chainsaw himself. Here, he is cutting a large cherry log for a bench he wants to make while he’s here. He also taught Jane and me how to use the chainsaw safely.

Peter shaves a log for a bench.

Peter guides Jane in using the chainsaw.


I tried my hand too.

We cut so much we had to stop to sharpen. Gus showed us all how to sharpen the chain properly with a round file.

A master class in sharpening the chain.

Peter, our resident furniture maker, cut a cube from a log segment and stacked the remainder of the log on the cube. Voilà! His first ITE chair. It won’t make the exhibition, however, since it came apart when he tossed what was left of the log on the pile.

Peter's chair.Peter in Peter's chair.

Communicating across languages is no problem for Jean-François and Jane. In fact, the English language skills of both Jean-François and Siegfried have improved significantly since the beginning. Meanwhile, none of the rest of us has improved in the least our French or German. Peter has been trying out his high school (or was it junior high?) French. Jean-François laughs.

Jean-François and Jane cross the language barrier, part 1.

Jean-François and Jane cross the language barrier, part 2.

Back at the shop, Peter, Jean-François, and I experimented with quick-setting cement that Peter brought with him. The possibilities are interesting.

Experiments with cement.

Peter couldn’t wait for the cement to dry before taking apart the form. Jean-François thought perhaps he should wait.

Jean-François reserves judgment.

Jean-François (whom Peter had earlier accused of stealing his pencil) awarded Peter a pencil for a good demonstration of his use of cement, then took it back when Peter’s first sample came apart because Peter had removed it from the form before it had set. Peter later earned the pencil back with a successful second sample. Now, he has two pencils: his own and the one from Jean-François.

Peter earns his pencil.

Peter roughed out the shape for his bench in the shop with an electric chainsaw. The log is finally light enough for him to be able to stand it up by himself.

Peter shapes the log for his bench with a chainsaw.

The bench begins to emerge.

Now he is using a power planer to further shape the wood.

Peter uses a power planer.

Turning actually went on in the shop today too. Sean has turned a bowl of Cryptomeria on three or four centers and is texturing each face differently.

Sean's multiaxis Cryptomeria bowl.

I started a new pear bowl, and Jean-François turned another oak bowl.

Yesterday evening, Broad Street (a.k.a. Avenue of the Arts) closed just a few blocks up from us for a small jazz festival with Branford Marsalis, part of Philadelphia’s celebration of the Fourth of July. I strolled up and swayed to the music for a bit, but was so exhausted from hauling logs that I couldn’t stay. Home to blog for me!

A visit with the Rhoas

We finally connected with Peter on Sunday. He had difficulty getting into the dorm when he arrived Saturday evening, but all has been resolved now, and he is settling into the shop as well.

Sunday evening after a fairly quiet day in the shop, we all headed out to Collegeville, PA, to visit Greg and Regina Rhoa. There, we were treated to a feast for the eyes as well as the lips. They have proportionally less wood art than in other collections we have seen, because they have so much art of other media (glass, ceramics, metal, mixed media, paintings, prints), and some of their wood art is furniture. It is all beautifully displayed, with pieces of whatever media complementing each other wonderfully. My photos fail to capture the whole ambiance (my lens wasn’t wide enough), so I have elected to focus instead on some of the largest groupings of wood in their home. Remember as you look at the photos below: you may think you are looking at all wood, but the pieces you see may in fact be ceramic or glass. I very much enjoyed the mix of media.

In the Rhoas' sunroom.

In one of the Rhoas' bedrooms.

More in that bedroom.

Still more in that bedroom.

In the Rhoas' master bathroom.

Dinner with the Rhoas. Jean-François took this photo.

After savoring their collection, they treated us to a delicious home-cooked Puerto Rican dinner. Greg, apparently, is a gourmet chef, and Regina, a gourmet baker. Notice the Mark Sfirri pieces on the table.

A brief tour of the workshop

This is Anderson Hall, the building on Broad Street that houses the University of the Arts Wood Department (among others). The wood shop is on the fourth floor.

The UArts building where we work.

I digress, but this is the more interesting (architecturally speaking) building next door: the (former) Chambers-Wylie Memorial Presbyterian Church, which now houses the Broad Street Ministry.

The church next door.

The old Chambers-Wylie sign.

The old Chambers-Wylie sign.

Back to the UArts building. When you get off the elevator at the fourth floor, this is what you see. And, yes, the lights are often off, since not many other people are working in the building over the summer.

The Wood Department.

The front room of the wood shop houses most of the woodworking equipment and our wood piles.

Inside the wood shop.

The other side of the wood shop.

The other side of the wood shop from the other end.

The second room of the shop is where we’ve spread out the boxes of stuff we got from the Wood Turning Center. These contain tools and supplies left over from past ITEs. The cupboards at the end of the room house all manner of hand tools: carving chisels, hand saws, hammers, mallets, screwdrivers, planes, etc.

The second room of the wood shop.

Here’s where you enter the Magic Kingdom. My work station is the first one you see, straight ahead.

The entrance to the room where we turn.

We have four lathes back here: three Oneways and a Stubby. We each have at least one workbench, a few lamps, and a lockable cupboard.

My work area.

Jean-François works across from me, so I’m most familiar with what he’s up to throughout the day.

Jean-François's work area.

Behind him is Siegfried’s area.

Siegfried's work area.

Sean’s corner is behind me and across from Siegfried.

Sean's work area.

We have piled the turning tools and lathe accessories from the Wood Turning Center on one workbench between Siegfried and Sean so that they are easily accessible.

Turning tools and lathe accessories.

Behind Siegfried is a shared carving station.

The carving station.

The turning room as seen from the corner behind Siegfried. The area in the far background is storing unused workbenches. We will clear space there for Peter, who showed up at the shop this morning.

The turning room.

A look at where we live

This is the Pine Street view of Furness Hall, our dormitory.

Furness Hall.

The Pine Street entrance to the Furness Hall complex. We can park here to unload. The window to the right of the entrance is the security guards’ office.

Furness Hall.

Through that entrance is a courtyard. Our rooms are across the courtyard, through this entrance, past vending machines, and up the elevator. Out of the picture to the right is Hamilton Hall.

Inside the Furness Hall courtyard.

This is what greets us after we get of the elevator and open the door to the third-floor hallway.

Third-floor mural.

Behind us when we turn the corner is another mural.

Another third-floor mural.

Looking back down the hallway toward the elevator. Jean-François’s door is on the left closest to the mural, the second door is to the community room, and the foreground door is to a room still empty, perhaps for Elisabeth Agro, our scholar.

The third-floor hallway.

My living area. To the left is a refrigerator and a desk, where I pile bags. The kitchen area is to the right, along with entrances to the bedrooms. I’ve just finished a puzzle on this table, which is also where I eat and read the weekly newspapers. The rooms are very tall, so the light from the overhead lamp is very dim and the rooms are fairly dark at night (I brightened this photo considerably).

My living area.

My kitchen area. I try not to use the oven, as the air-conditioning unit is only in the bedroom. We have a microwave oven and pots and pans in the community room down the hall. At the far right is the corridor to the bedroom I don’t use. The door next to the fire extinguisher is to the bathroom. As you can see, I keep my tripod next to the cupboard where I occasionally photograph vessels.

My kitchen area.

My bathroom and the hallway to the bedroom I use, along which is a doorless closet containing a bureau. Below is the closet itself.

My bathroom.The hallway to my bedroom.

My closet.

Here is where I spend many hours working on photographs and writing the blog. I can get only the faintest of wifi signals in my room, so I can’t do much online from my desk, but I can size photos and draft text. And listen to music while I work. I ripped some 180 hours of music from my CD collection before I left, and I’m glad to have it. And I bless every day the past ITEr who left this cushion behind. This wooden chair was pretty uncomfortable before I found the pillow among the ITE stuff.

My desk.

My bureau and the desk I use as a nightstand. This is definitely dorm living: I spent fifteen minutes cleaning the gummy residue off of this desk before I could set anything down on it.

My bureau and nightstand.

My bed. I stole a mattress from the other bedroom so that I could double up. The two mattresses together are just soft enough to sleep comfortably. The top mattress is so stained and torn that I did not want to sleep on it even as the bottom of two mattresses, so I left it up top to pile my laundry and laptop bag on.

My bed.

The window air-conditioning unit. I have used it surprisingly little, but there have been a few days when being without it would have been really uncomfortable. I have no doubt I will be using it a lot more in July.

The air-conditioner.

My living area as seen from the bedroom door. The cables hanging by the door just hang there.

Another view of my living area.

Leaving my luxury suite, I often take the stairs down instead of the elevator.

The stairwell.

Going down the stairs takes me into the lovely part of the courtyard, which, as befits a university of the arts, is full of sculptures.

Courtyard sculpture.

I love the voluptuous goddess figure lurking behind the Buddha.

More courtyard sculptures.

There are also benches and tables in the courtyard area. I sometimes sit down here to go online, as does Jean-François. The entrance to our building is in the glare beyond the benches. The building to the right is Hamilton Hall.

The courtyard.

Hamilton Hall is the closest place to get a strong wifi connection, so this is where you will find me and Jean-François after dinner, in various (separate) nooks and corners.

Inside Hamilton Hall.

The near end of Hamilton Hall.

Also in Hamilton Hall, is the UArts Cantina, where from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. you can get eggs, a bagel, a sandwich, a salad, coffee, etc. This is the view I usually have, as I sit in the open area (below) at night to work on the blog and make video calls without disturbing anyone.

The closed cantina.

The open end of the cantina.