Anyone who’s ever said “Just bury me in an old pine box” needs to know Dienna Genther. After 20 years as a carpenter, shipwright, cabinet maker and fine woodworker, she turned her considerable talents to making caskets and coffins. She makes beautiful, affordable, functional and finely-crafted wooden containers for final disposition.
Dienna was born and raised in the state of Washington, where she played with wood as a child. She became a carpenter who did remodel and finish work. Eventually the long, gray, damp Northwest winters began to wear on her. She came to the Southwest in 1997, drawn by the sunny blue sky and enchanting landscapes, as well as family ties.
Both her mother and sister were living in New Mexico. Dienna started The Old Pine Box in 2004. When Mom died in 2006, Dienna and her sister Corinne did a home funeral, working with the Office of the Medical Investigator (OMI) to get the death certificate. They themselves took Mom’s body to be cremated. Her remains are buried out on the Genther’s East Mountain property, in the company of deceased family cats out where the chickens roam.
Corinne does all the decoration on items to be painted. She’s a self-taught artist who sands, paints and burns images onto the wooden products they carry. Seamstress Christine Siano joined them to craft the interior linings of coffins with colorful southwestern flair. They also make furniture, designed and built to a client’s specifications.
As she grew older, Dienna thought that making coffins would be easier than doing construction work. “I was going to be a mortician and had filled out the paper work to go to mortuary school when I got this cosmic tap,” she explained. “Why go to school and learn new skills when I already have woodworking skills that could be used in this field?”
And this business has turned into a true calling for her. People have telephoned and said to her, “Bless you, thank you for doing this.”
Caskets vs. Coffins
What’s the difference between a casket and a coffin? A coffin has six panels making up the sides, narrower at the head and toes and wider at the shoulders. A casket has four side panels, a rectangular box shape.
They make both styles at The Old Pine Box. And they’re not just made of pine – they also use red cedar, red oak, poplar, even black walnut. You can also custom order a coffin of alder, birch, cherry, hickory, maple, and redwood. You get them unlined or pay a little more for a cotton muslin or blanket interior.
All of their coffins and wooden urns are individually handcrafted and designed to return to the earth naturally. They use only solid wood in their construction. While they have a wood stove in the workshop, they are so efficient in their use of materials they only have enough leftovers for tinder and have to buy firewood.
Their stock models are completely kosher for traditional Jewish burial, with no metal parts or animal based glues. The coffin bottoms are constructed with tongue-in-groove slats.
The sizing descriptions are charming: “Poquito” is child-sized. “Moderate” is the right size for your tiny grandmother. “Standard” is for average-sized people. “Abundant” is the big-and-tall size.
One-third of their business comes from outside the state of New Mexico. They offer one casket model as a kit that can be shipped flat and put together when it is needed. They will bring finished caskets into Albuquerque for a $50 delivery fee.
Funeral Consumer Information
From her own experience with her mother’s home funeral, Dienna also offers information to consumers about the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Funeral Rule. Some of the points she makes in her literature is that it is illegal for any funeral home to:
- Refuse to accept a third party coffin.
- Require the family’s presence for delivery.
- Charge a handling, storage or packaging disposal fee.
- Alter prices of goods and services as a result of third party coffin use.
She also offers the FTC’s brochure, “Funerals: A Consumer Guide,” a must-read for anyone who doesn’t plan to die. If you’re in the Albuquerque area, give them a call at The Old Pine Box and arrange to visit their showroom and workshop. The phone number is 505-286-9410. It’s a fascinating field trip.