Update: The Nakashima Sanso table with Conoid chairs sold for $187,500.
What you see: A Sanso “Reception House” table and six Conoid chairs, designed and made by George Nakashima in 1981. The table is 28 inches high, 60 inches wide, and 84 1/2 inches in diameter. All seven pieces are signed with the surname of the client. Freeman’s estimates the group at $100,000 to $150,000.
Who was George Nakashima? He was an American woodworker who became one of the most influential furniture-makers of the 20th century. Born to Japanese immigrants, Nakashima had traveled extensively in Japan by the time he was forced into an internment camp in Idaho during World War II. There he met an inmate who taught him Japanese carpentry techniques. Architect Antonin Raymond helped free Nakashima in 1943 and invited him to stay in New Hope, Pennsylvania. Nakashima never left. He developed a style that respected and celebrated the rugged, natural aspects of wood, and which turned its flaws into strengths. He died in 1990 at the age of 85.
Why are Sanso tables so rare? Was it difficult for Nakashima to find suitable pieces of lumber? “It was tough to get really good slabs of wood at this size,” says Tim Andreadis, department head of 20th century design at Freeman’s, adding that fewer than a dozen Sanso tables exist. “Finding a board that was conducive to this purpose was more difficult and more costly. This one is a really nice English walnut, which is what the client wanted.”
The table comes with six Conoid chairs. Is this the full original set of chairs? Yes. “What’s really nice about them is they’re single slab seats,” he says. “Single slab seats were three times more expensive to purchase. They’re usually better-quality wood, and they’re all very even in color. There’s a nice contrast between the American black walnut chairs and the English walnut Sanso table.”
We know the client was Stanley Frosh and his family. What do we know about the Froshes? “They [the furniture] were made as a set and originally used in Stanley’s judge’s chambers before moving them to his home as a reception-slash-dining table for the family to use,” Andreadis says. “The Frosh family was extremely close to the Nakashimas. When George passed, the whole [Nakashima] family sat around this table to discuss the future of the George Nakashima studio. It did become a table around which big decisions were made.”
This Sanso table has several butterfly joints in it–bow-tie like fittings that help hold the tabletop together. Did Nakashima invent the butterfly joint, or did he make it his own? “Butterfly joints were used for centuries, but he made them his own,” Andreadis says. “They were used on the undersides of furnishings. You didn’t see butterfly joints. George respected the honesty of the construction process, and he wanted to make it visible. He thought it was something to be celebrated rather than hidden.”
Does the large number of butterfly joints increase the value of the Frosh Sanso table? “That’s definitely true,” he says. “It shows that George wanted to preserve the piece of lumber. In order to do that, he needed to use more butterfly joints to shore up the piece of wood. He didn’t put them on willy-nilly as a decoration. The joints prevented splits in areas that would have split over time. George worked through all the problems. He didn’t put a Band-Aid on them. He embellished them and drew your eye to them.”
And has the table held together well? What condition is it in? “It’s in fantastic condition,” he says. “The family always recognized it as a masterpiece, and revered it as such, and treated it as such. George made it later in his career, in the sweet spot between the late 1970s and the early 1980s, when he was catching his stride and reflecting what his design ethos was about. It’s a beautiful thing to behold in person.”
A Paris auction house sold a Sanso table in American black walnut, without chairs, for roughly $207,000 in May. Do you think this suite of Nakashima furniture will do better? “I think it certainly has that potential. It’s one of the most dramatic Sanso tables to come to market. Even if it was just the table, I’d gush about it. It’s absolutely a blue-chip masterwork by George Nakashima,” he says. “To have Mira [George’s daughter, who now leads the studio] and the family’s memory at a pivotal point in the studio’s history speaks even further to the history with the Frosh family, and to why George chose a special table for Stanley Frosh. We have the climax point where George dies, and they talk about the studio’s future [around this table.] It could not only set a record for a Sanso table, it could set a record for any George Nakashima.”
What else makes this Nakashima furniture special? “If you’ve been waiting for a special piece by Nakashima, this is that type of piece. It will transcend market shifts over the years,” he says. “And you can look at it time after time and not get bored. I’ve been looking at it for four months and every time, I find something new. You get chills standing near it. A Nakashima like this belongs in a museum or a private collection. One lucky bidder will get to own this table, and I envy them.”
Freeman’s is on Twitter and Instagram as well. Also, you can read a short article on the Frosh family table and chairs set on the Freeman’s site.
Text is copyright Sheila Gibson Stoodley. Image is courtesy of Freeman’s.