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Secret History of The Noguchi Coffee Table!

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Published at Wednesday, July 03rd 2019. by in Coffee Table.

First liberated by Herman Miller in 1948, the well known "Noguchi Table" maybe it looks like was tuged through a 'wormhole' from a 'showroom on an alien‐world', but it was actually originated by a man: Isamu Noguchi.

The son of a Japanese poet and an American writer, and one‐time lover of Frida Kahlo, Noguchi was an influential sculptor who transmitted his fascination with surrealism or zen gardens into attractive furniture designs.

see also

How To Choose Your Coffee Table and Other Occasional Furniture?
How To Choose Your Coffee Table and Other Occasional Furniture?

But the Noguchi Table, with it's organic, physics‐defying shape, is perhaps his most popular design.

Yet the "Noguchi Coffee Table" nearly did not happen, as this 12‐minute video essay by movie creator Eve Goldberg shows.

In fact, the creator might not have created his most recognizable design at all if not for two‐things: outright design theft by a famous modern furniture creator, and his own (unusual) imprisonment during World War II in a Japanese internment camp.

The inspiring story of the Noguchi Table starts in 1939, when Noguchi created a 'rosewood' and 'glass table for A'.

Conger Goodyear, the president of "the Museum of Modern Art".

While a unlike shape than the Noguchi Table, it did have 'two‐items' in common with the 1948 version: it had a glass top, and it was balanced on three legs.

Shortly)afterward, Noguchi (who was )working)on an advertisement with Georgia O'Keefe at the time) fielded a meeting with designer T.H. Robsjohn‐Gibbings, the British architect and furniture designer.

Robsjohn‐Gibbings asked Noguchi to pitch a table design to his company. Using his design for Goodyear's table as a basis, Noguchi mocked up ‐ a plastic model of his proposed table, and sent it ‐ off to Robsjohn‐Gibbings in the wishes of a commission. Noguchi never heard ‐ back, or busy with other projects, swiftly forgot about it.

On December 7, 1941, the Japanese struck Pearl Harbor, drawing the United States officially into World War II. Long before America brought the fight to Japan, though, it took out its pent‐up rage on its own citizens.

And then, on February 19, 1942, President  Franklin D.  Roosevelt signed "Executive Order 9066 ", commanding Japanese‐Americans on the West Coast of the United States to pack a small amount of their belongings and relocate to internment camps.

Noguchi was release. A Japanese‐American living on the East Coast, Noguchi had no obligation to relocate to the camps.

Yet as a mixed‐race American who had grown ‐up in both Los Angeles and Japan, Noguchi strongly associated with the plight of the Japanese‐Americans interned in the camps.

Noguchi decided that he was going to try to improve conditions for interned Japanese‐Americans by going inside the system.

He faced John Collier, the head of the "National Office of Indian Affairs ", who asked Noguchi to come live in a new ‐camp being built on a reservation in Arizona and teach arts and crafts. Noguchi accepted.

Once interned in the camps, though, Noguchi was discouraged. His support from Collier nearly immediately vanished, and the engaged art substances never appeared.

Camp administrators disregarded a series of designs Noguchi made to attempt to improve conditions at the camp by launching amenities such as 'swimming pools' and 'gardens '.

Even his fellow‐prisoners hated him, begrudging Noguchi for his private‐quarters, one of the few perks Noguchi had been engaged at the camp for voluntarily interning‐himself.

Another perk: He was permitted to have outside magazines and newspapers delivered to him in the camp. And it was in the pages of one of these magazines that Noguchi discovered an ad for a table he recognized: the same one he had pitched to Robsjohn‐Gibbings.

It was now being mass‐produced and sold to the public, and Noguchi wasn't getting a dime. Noguchi wrote to Robsjohn‐Gibbings, demanding compensation. The response? Get bent.

"Noguchi wrote to Robsjohn‐Gibbings, demanding compensation. The response? Get bent."Noguchi had enough. He registered to camp officials for release, declaring that since he had voluntarily interned himself, he could leave any time.

Camp officials disagreed, citing "suspicious activity." In September 1942, Noguchi wrote to Collier, asking his one‐time sponsor to help‐free him from the camp where he had voluntarily assigned himself.

Eventually, on November 12, 1942, Noguchi was granted a short‐term furlough and, later, permanent leave. Noguchi left the camp gates, got in his car, and drove across the desert straight‐back to New York, never once looking‐back.

Noguchi got to 'work channeling' his frustration at the hands of the U.S. government and the perfidious Robsjohn‐Gibbings by originating what was, possibly, the ultimate revenge: the creation of an iconic design that not only created Robsjohn‐Gibbings's stolen table irrelevant, but which would go on to prove just how important Japanese‐Americans were to the cultural history of this country.

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