Sunday, October 9, 2011
On Friday, October 7th, I attended a meeting in Wonewoc, Wisconsin to discuss urban forestry. The motley crew of varied backgrounds that assembled for this discussion included a village administrator, an undertaker, a forester, and a casket maker (that's me). After short introductions the ensuing conversation reinforced that each participant shares a core value: that planting trees is good for people.
At the Northwoods Casket Company we value trees for the environmental, communal, economic, and social benefits they provide. This is why we've made a commitment to plant 100 trees for every casket we build. This commitment is written into our business plan, and it is permanent--this is not a temporary gimmick for publicity.
Urban Forestry for Healthy Trees
The Northwoods Casket Co has partnered with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources to aid in tree-planting initiatives throughout the state like the Urban Forestry Initiative. Next spring the Northwoods Casket Company will pay $1000 each for three communities to plant trees during their arbor day celebrations. These communities will coordinate with the DNR Urban Forestry program to identify the best trees to plant as well as where, how, and when to plant them so they can provide the maximum benefit to the community. For some communities, like Wonewoc, this will be a jumpstart to becoming a Tree City USA.
A good partnership is one where all parties benefit; and so is the case in this partnership between village administrator, undertaker, forester, and casket maker. The village administrator receives a $1000 tree-planting grant and forestry education. The undertaker organizes local volunteers and generates goodwill for his business. The forester reaches a new community with education to plant trees the right way and in the right places. And the casket maker generates goodwill for the Northwoods Casket Company. Everyone benefits.
The Motley Crew
The village administrator: Lee C. Kucher, Village of Wonewoc, Wisconsin
The undertaker: Steve Mitchell, Thompson Funeral Service, Wonewoc, WI
The forester: Don Kissinger, Urban & Community Forestry Coordinator, WI-DNR
The casket maker: Jonas A. Zahn, President, Northwoods Casket Company, Beaver Dam, WI
Thursday, October 6, 2011
The pursuit of perfection.
Perfection and the pursuit of making things complete, balanced, and everlasting is quite natural. I often find myself holding back until something is completely finished to my liking (such as publishing this blog). I like structured outlines and have an innate appreciation for symmetry both visually and conceptually. To some degree, there are also certain things I wish to remain the same indefinitely (like where the milk goes in the refrigerator or the way I pack my suitcase for a business trip). This is how we create order in the chaos that is nature and life.
Embrace the imperfect.
There is another way, another aesthetic, a different manner in thinking to appreciate the very natural way in which things are never finished, are never symmetric, and are forever changing. Wabi-sabi has given me a new perspective when it comes to measuring the quality of our caskets. While funeral directors and families value quality craftsmanship, structural integrity, and sustainable production practices, this does not mean we cannot appreciate the imperfections in the natural objects from which Northwoods caskets are made. These imperfections do not take away from the quality of the product as determined by its usefulness. We embrace the imperfections, the asymmetry, and the irregularities of the natural materials that give our caskets a natural beauty where each casket possesses a uniqueness and intimacy.
Embrace the imperfect.
|Beauty lies in uniqueness and intimacy.|
What is wabi-sabi?
|Simplicity, economy, modesty, and intimacy.|
Imperfect adds character.
|Color, knots, and holes add unique character.|
Is this dishonest practice?
|Every casket exceeds structural requirements.|
Are we just being cheap?
There is a difference between being cheap at the cost of functional quality of our product and reducing waste. We actually don't save money with this practice. Our wabi-sabi approach to reducing material waste comes at the expense of human capital. Our craftsmen set aside boards with imperfections (i.e. unique character) for specific purposes. Boards with extraordinary wood grain, knothole patterns, and coloration from blue stain fungus are reserved for use in the lids. In other industries that manufacture with wood, these extraordinary materials are discarded as waste. This includes boards with such incredibly beautiful knothole patterns that compromise the structural integrity of the board--but since the lid provides zero structural support in our casket design, the lid is a perfect place for those boards with the most unique character. While careful selection in materials has significantly reduced waste and carbon impact, we've added to the cost of human capital in our craftsman. We actually incur additional cost by hand-selecting material for different parts of the final product.
|Russ & Josh Koepsell admire beauty in simplicity.|
Feedback from families and funeral directors has been phenomenal. In a culture often absorbed in the pursuit of perfection as defined by the absence of imperfection, more of our families are expressing true appreciation for the little imperfections that add character to each and every one of our caskets. Imperfect is perfect.
 Wabi-Sabi. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wabi-sabi