The first challenge both men experienced was the exponential development of machine technology which began in earnest during Morris’ generation and continued on through Nakashima’s. Nakashima, Morris, and Ruskin before them, recognized that handwork, especially when undertaken with creativity and individuality, infused the work with both a tangible sense of human input and with a level of detail and quality that distinguished it from mass-produced machine work. That unique human quality went missing from machine-produced furniture because the latter relied on standardized dimensioning; repeatability; and mass-produced, surface-mounted ornamentation.
Morris saw no future in these processes. In his 1884 lecture, “Useful Work versus Useless Toil,” he optimistically predicted the demise of machinery, which “would probably, after a time, be somewhat restricted when men found out that there was no need for anxiety as to mere subsistence and learned to take an interest and pleasure in handiwork which, done deliberately and thoughtfully, could be made more attractive than machine work.”
Nakashima similarly believed that quality and beauty were not programmed by a technician but rather the result of decades of tradition and skill. In his description of true craftsmanship, “the woodworker is completely dedicated, with a strong sense of vocation. Often his craft has been handed down from generation to generation. A woodworker’s hands develop in a special way with intense and concentrated use. The flesh becomes stronger and heavier in certain areas, better fitted to grasp and use the tools. He has a special intensity, a striving for perfection, a conviction that any task must be executed with all his skill.”26 Such “intensity” could not be automated, just as the “interest and pleasure” Morris referred to could have no meaning for a machine.
–David Lane, excerpt from “William Morris & George Nakashima: Finding the Middle Landscape,” in Issue Six