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The Fascinating History Behind The Noguchi Table
The TriBeCa Table, also called the Noguchi table replica, is a faithful reproduction of one of the most recognizable tables having sprung from the midcentury. Designed by Isamu Noguchi, a popular American artist and landscape architect whose career had a 20-year run, the Noguchi Table has a notable history. The circumstances of the midcentury were not favorable to the half-Japanese Noguchi in that anti-Japanese sentiment was peaking in the 1940s. Despite the odds against him, Noguchi managed to design sculptures and furniture that had made him one of the most remarkable designers in the midcentury modern movement.
Isamu Noguchi was born to an American writer and a Japanese poet in 1904. His artistic career began in the 1920s, during which he had constructed abstract sculptures. He continued the path in the fine arts by producing brush painting, public monuments and portrait sculpture works. Noguchi had taken up furniture design in the late 1930’s, which is where the history of the Noguchi table begins. A prototype for the Noguchi table was generated in 1939, when the Museum of Modern Art president A. Conger Goodyear commissioned Noguchi to design a glass and rosewood table. Although this model was not that of the famed Noguchi Table, it shared its glass top and three legs.
Shortly after commissioning this early prototype for the table, Noguchi met with British architect and furniture designer T.H. Robsjohn-Gibbings, who asked Noguchi to pitch a table for his company. Noguchi used the model he’d created for Goodyear as a guide to pitching the table for Robsjohn-Gibbings. After sending his design as a plastic model to Robsjohn-Gibbings, Noguchi has not heard back since and has been preoccupied with some of the historical events following, which led to inhibiting.
There was trouble on the horizon for Japanese Americans in the early ‘40s, particularly after the Pearl Harbor Attack of 1941, which galvanized the US’s entry into World War II. Japanese-Americans that lived in the west coast were ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to relocate to internment camps in February 1942. As a Japanese-American living on the East Coast, Noguchi was not legally bound to internment. An empathetic soul, Noguchi identified with the Japanese-Americans who were forced into internment camps, being half-Japanese himself and having spent his youth in Los Angeles and Japan. Noguchi decided to take action by improving the conditions at the internment camps. He did this through an offer to teach arts and crafts on an internment camp in Arizona.
Life in the internment camps was not as Noguchi had hoped for it to be. He could not attempt to improve the conditions other internees faced, as he did not receive the arts and crafts materials he was promised. He persevered by designing camp amenities such as swimming pools and gardens to make the camps a less grim place. But they were of no avail, as camp administrators did not implement any of his ideas or even look at his design sketches. Noguchi felt the disdain directed at him by other internees for having his own private quarters, an advantage no one else had. Noguchi was granted this edge for having voluntarily interned himself.
Noguchi also had the privilege of being sent magazines and newspapers that were created outside of the internment camps. One day, while reading one of those magazines, Noguchi came upon an ad for a table that looked strikingly familiar. It was the same table he had pitched to the British furniture designer T. H. Robsjohn-Gibbings. Noguchi then realized that his table idea was being mass produced to the public without his consent or knowledge. He wrote a missive to Robsjohn-Gibbings, pleading to be paid the due royalties, but Robsjohn-Gibbings refused to cooperate. Noguchi appealed to camp officials for a release since, after all, it was he himself who was responsible for consignment to the camp. Unfortunately, officials in Noguchi’s camp would not release him due to his "suspicious activity." Not even the official that sponsored Noguchi’s camp consignment would relent to set him free.
It wasn’t until November 12, 1942, in which Noguchi was given a temporary leave, during which he made a beeline to New York via his own car, driving through the rough terrain of the deserts. Without skipping a beat, Noguchi returned to designing; he perfected the original model he sent to Robsjohn-Gibbings. Noguchi also obtained a permanent leave from the camp and devoted his days to feurniture design. The new Noguchi table gained momentum, while Robsjohn-Gibbings’ version fell to oblivion. The simple yet elegant Noguchi table has become one of the most valued and celebrated pieces of furniture to emerge out of the midcentury. It is still being mass-produced and Manhattan Home Design offers a Noguchi table replica that stays true to Noguchi’s materials and design.
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