The Pine Cone Painters!

My Gramma started her wreath business in St Paul during the Great Depression; it helped immensely to sustain their family.  She and my grandpa never worked for anyone, and always earned their living with a string of small businesses.

By the time my brother Mark and I were old enough to work (in the mind of our family) at the ages of about 8 or 9, we were borrowed to Gramma and Grampa to help during the summer in their various businesses. Grampa’s Bleach business (Hydro-Bleach) as well as Gramma’s Wreath Business were the two pursuits we worked at during those years in the 1950’s.

What did we do in the Wreath Business during the Summer? Well, painting and glittering pine cones of course. It went like this:

Grampa would get his old 50 gallon drum that had a lid, and bring it to the top of the slope that descended to the lake they lived on, Lake Owasso in Shoreview, MN. Then, Mark and I would dump a bunch of cones from burlap sacks and pour some white paint into the drum. After securing the lid, we would roll the drum down the hill, mainly holding it back so that it didn’t roll over us and end up in the lake! On the trip down the slope, the cones would bounce around inside the drum with the paint so all the tips would be painted. When we got the barrel safely to the flat spot just before the lake, we’d stop the drum, pop open the lid and dump the cones on the big sheet of plastic. Gramma would then use a shaker to shake silver glitter onto the cones. Mark and I thought they looked pretty cool! Then, he and I would roll the drum back up the hill to do another batch.

In the hot summer sun, the cones would dry rapidly and the four of us would periodically gather them together and put them back into the burlap sacks. Grampa kept the supplies coming and carried the finished cones to the top up the hill. “Boyz-oh-boyz, those cones are heavy” he would say to Mark and me. During those years Gramma made about 5,000 wreaths a year, and wired 5 cones on each wreath – we painted and glittered 25,000 cones each summer!

Gramma and Grampa made this project fun and we could easily see the fruits of our labor. When we got too hot we went swimming. When we got too tired we all rested. There was no rush, but Grandma was very picky about the ‘look’ of each cone. We always did a good job, and although we didn’t earn much, my brother Mark and I always had our own money.

Today was one of many ‘Pine Cone Painting’ days at Mickman Brothers. We do semi-truck load per day with a machine we invented that does a wonderful job. Some years ago I remembered glittering cones with Gramma and experimented with adding that process to our pine cone painting program. Our Wreath Production Supervisor, Berta, came up with a couple of good ideas that helped the process immensely.

So now, all of the Classic Style Wreaths and Sprays you order have white-tipped, glittered cones and they look awesome. To my knowledge, we are the only large wreath company in the nation that adds this, what I think is a great accent, to their pine cones.

All thanks to Gramma. I hope you like them!

John Mickman


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *