May 24, 2013

The Coffinmaker and handcrafted wooden caskets

I wish I could embed this beautiful and powerful video by Dan McComb on Vimeo, but I can't so you have to go here to see it

The Coffinmaker

The description:

Every year, Americans bury enough metal in the ground to rebuild the Golden Gate Bridge, says Vashon Island coffin maker Marcus Daly. His simple, handcrafted wooden coffins are an economical and environmentally friendly burial alternative. But Daly believes a coffin's most important feature is that it can be carried. Here's why.

"I think one of the most important aspects of the coffin is that it can be carried.  And I think we're meant to carry each other and I think carrying someone you love and committing them is very important for us . When we deal with death, we want to know that we have played a part and that we have shouldered our burden.  So, if we make it too convenient then we're depriving ourselves of a chance to get stronger so that we can carry on."

Watching Marcus Daly work is mesmerizing, so is listening to him.

"When I'm out here by myself early in the morning or in the middle of the night or something like that, I can get a sense of how work is love made visible ……. I'm building something for someone that people tend to think is a destination; they think of the grave as the end and I'm trying to illuminate that it's a doorway."

Handmade wooden caskets are beautiful, environmentally sound and far less expensive than caskets sold in funeral homes.  Apart from craftsmen like Marcus Daly, just about the only place you can find wooden caskets made with love are monasteries.

A Casket Cartel and the Louisiana Way of Death

This story begins 1,600 years ago when Benedict of Nursia founded an order of monks and instructed them to put bread on their table through the labor of their own hands. Following this dictate, the entrepreneurial brothers of St. Joseph Abbey—a century-old monastery in Covington, La.—opened a tiny business on All Souls' Day in 2007 to sell the unadorned wooden caskets that they have made for generations.

That's when their ancient ways collided with modern America. The monks had not sold a single casket before the Louisiana State Board of Funeral Directors—acting on a complaint from a government-licensed funeral director—shut them down. In Louisiana, the government had made it a crime to sell caskets in the state without a license. To do so, the monks would have had to transform their monastery into a funeral home, including building an embalming room, and at least one of the monks would have had to leave the order to spend years becoming a licensed funeral director. All of that just to sell a wooden box.

It didn't take a divine revelation to recognize that funeral directors were using the law, the government licensing entity they controlled, and their political clout to monopolize the lucrative casket market. Lacking the worldly guile of their adversaries, the monks put their faith in democracy, petitioning state legislators in 2008 and 2010. Each time, the funeral-industry lobby mobilized to kill the monks' common-sense reform proposals. 

They then went to court.  On March 20, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Benedictine monks of St. Joseph Abbey near Covington, La., have a right to sell caskets in their home state.

“Funeral homes, not independent sellers, have been the problem for consumers with their bundling of product and markups of caskets,” the 19-page opinion said. The “grant of an exclusive right of sale (for licensed funeral directors) adds nothing to protect consumers and puts them at a greater risk of abuse including exploitative prices.”

Saint Joseph Woodworks in LA
Abbey Caskets in Indiana

Posted by Jill Fallon at May 24, 2013 1:52 AM | Permalink