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Photos: Mat Bobby

Luc Nadeau: Nature’s Casket

On Election Day, we stopped by the backyard studio of Luc Nadeau, owner of Nature’s Casket, an eco-casket company in Longmont. Mat had been in and out of the studio all day taking photographs of Nadeau’s process. When I arrived I quietly watched Luc work from the doorway of the studio as he was furiously sanding the most beautiful and minimal coffin ever. Luc appeared as a dark masked figure amidst a dense cloud of sawdust. When he turned the sander off the sawdust settled to the ground and fell onto his neatly arranged tools and every other surface in his studio. He kindly took a break for a few minutes to talk to both Mat and me about his work.

JB: I have never met somebody who makes coffins before. I am really interested in your work.

When did you start making coffins? How does one even start making coffins?

LN: I think we made our first prototype in early 2008. In the early 2000s, I had the idea to make caskets after wondering what to do with some old wood pallets – I thought I could make them into recycled caskets. I did a little research at the time and found that there was a green burial movement in the UK, but not much happening in the US. I put the idea on the shelf. When I heard about the mountain pine beetle epidemic in the Rocky Mountains toward the end of 2007, I revisited the idea with the intent of using beetle kill wood (which has an interesting bluish tinge to the grain) for the caskets. By that time, green burial had begun to make some inroads in the US.

JB: I am terrified of death. Since having kids it is something I think about way too much. I just couldn’t imagine if my studio practice was making containers for the dead. Does making coffins make you think about death all the time? Do you think extensively about the person each coffin is being built for? Do you find that you are able to detach from that at all?

LN: I’ve read that in some societies where death is more openly discussed and contemplated, it becomes a less terrifying prospect. I am still scared of dying, but I think the fact that I confront it a little more than I used to has been and will be helpful when I have to deal with it more personally. I still feel sadness for all the families we work with who have lost a loved one, and I do think about a person’s life as I’m building a casket.

JB: Can you talk to me a bit about your process?

LN: We start with 1x6 S4S wood, make glue-up sheets on a clamping system a friend built for us, cut and sand the pieces in the shop, then assemble it. We generally use minimum metal fasteners (wood screws), but we’ve also done all-wood caskets. Lids are one- or two-piece and are screwed down. We provide rope handles. We’re looking at an option for hinged lids and metal handles. We also make wood urns, and I’m hoping to get a lathe at some point so I can turn some urns.

JB: Where do you source your wood? Is this something that you carefully consider?

LN: The wood is sourced from various vendors in the Front Range. Most is from trees killed in the Colorado Rocky Mountains, but some may come from other parts of the Rocky Mountains. All of our pine is beetle kill. We also have some eastern red cedar, which grows as an invasive in the Great Plains – we may begin doing more with this.

JB: Is most of your business local? What is the furthest you have shipped one of your coffins?

LN: We have shipped our caskets to most of the contiguous United States. However, we are hoping to focus on local sales along the Front Range as we move forward. Shipping involves building a crate for the casket and can be onerous.

JB: Do you come from an art background at all? What is your training as a wood worker? Do you make any other art?

LN: I have done a fair amount of art, photography, and writing. I’m project-oriented, so I like to work on new projects – it’s a release for my creative energy. I’m mostly a self-taught wood worker, having picked up a lot doing remodel work and building furniture on the side.

JB: I can’t believe it but I have never thought about or even considered an eco or green burial before. Can you talk to me a bit about what is means to have a green burial? What are your thoughts on this? How did you begin to be so thoughtful about this?

LN: Many of us try to be environmentally conscious in our lives, but when it comes to death, we don’t consider the impact. There are a lot of negative environmental impacts involved with conventional funerals: carbon emissions, resource use (hardwoods, metals), toxic chemicals (metal paints and embalming fluids), impacts from cemetery upkeep (pesticides, herbicides, water usage, land usage). Green burial removes most of these negative impacts, and it can include some positive ones, such as preserving land that would otherwise be degraded.

JB: What would you say is the most valuable lesson you have learned through your experience as a coffin maker and a business owner?

LN: For many families, being involved with arranging the funeral of a loved one is empowering and meaningful, and can help them with the grieving process. For me personally, I find being a part of the process of helping a family to be very rewarding.

JB: I am wondering are there many green burial companies out there? Is there any sort of community for you to be a part of? If so, can you describe what that community might be like?

LN: There are a growing number of green burial companies in the US. More people are becoming aware that it’s an option. Nature’s Casket is a member of the Green Burial Council, which is a nationwide advocate for green burial. I’m also tangentially involved with Natural Transitions, a Boulder nonprofit that helps families guide their own funerals. In general, people in the green burial and home funeral movements are interested in empowering families to bring more meaning and catharsis to the process of dealing with the death of a loved one.

JB: How did you end up in Longmont? How long have you been here?

LN: My wife, Kris, and I moved to Longmont in 1998. She taught kindergarten in Nederland, and I was getting my Masters at CSU – Longmont was the halfway point. So we ended up here as a pragmatic matter, but we soon realized that this was a vibrant community and something we wanted to be a part of.

JB: Do you have a vision for Longmont? What is it?

LN: Growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, I really came to value the sense of community there. I wanted to live in a place like that. Longmont has some of that, and it’s only been getting better in the 18 years we’ve been here. I’d like to be more involved in helping grow that sense of community, in making this an even better place to live.

JB: Are you working on anything else? What is next for you?

LN: I always have new projects I’m working on. Community activism is one of those projects I hope to embark on soon. I’ll also continue to work on art and writing and sports and other projects. As for Nature’s Casket, I have some new designs and wood that we’ll be working with.

To view more of Luc’s work, visit Nature’s Casket.