The Story of Chestnut, Old-World Florentine Wood Carvers, Textile Print Art, and Chestnut Tree Survival North of the 45th Parallel Combined into One Unique Intersection
In northern Michigan, working artists Joann Condino and her husband Gene Reck founded Three Pines Studio and Gallery in Cross Village at north latitude 45° 38. It’s just a few miles south of Sturgeon Bay, a part of Wilderness State Park and just off M119 near Legs Inn.
In September 2017, with the help of Dennis Fulbright and Chestnut Orchard Solutions, Joann and Gene started a small planting of chestnuts for their annual chestnut roastings by introducing ‘Marigoule’ and ‘Precoce Migoule’ chestnut cultivars to their garden area. Grafted cultivars ‘Marigoule’ and ‘Precoce Migoule’ are now a year old and have begun to settle in for their second full winter in Cross Village along with new cultivar arrivals ‘Colossal’ and ‘Maraval’ which were just planted. During their first year in Cross Village, ‘Marigoule’ and ‘Precoce Migoule’ slept through temperatures as low as -21°F. When they finally woke up in spring, they grew 7 to 9 inches and produced male and female flowers. Now we cross our fingers and hope they do it again and that ‘Colossal’ and ‘Maraval’ traverse their first winter as well as ‘Precoce Migoule’ and ‘Marigoule’ did north of the 45th parallel. The late fall and winter winds that whip off Lake Michigan as well as the chilling polar vortex make chestnut tree survival in this part of the state an interesting challenge that people are waiting to discover.
Above, chestnut cultivar ‘Marigoule’ planted September 2017 in Cross Village at Three Pines Studio and Gallery. Dennis Fulbright of Chestnut Orchard Solutions and Joann Condino who along with husband Gene Reck own Three Pines Studio. The ‘Marigoule’ grew as expected with temperatures down to -21 for a couple of nights last January.
It’s not surprising that Three Pines Studio holds an annual chestnut roast. Joann is a first generation Italian-American who, as a young girl, fell in love with the shapes, colors and textures of her mother’s pasta. Joann admits these shapes have influenced her art since childhood. Of her many talents in the studio, her textile prints are second to none. Initially printing on fabrics with antique Indian wood blocks she had found, Joann began to seek wood blocks from her homeland of Italy, specifically Florence. At first she couldn’t find Italian wood blocks for her prints, but as luck would have it she found Flippo Romagnoli, a third generation wood carver and a master corzetti carver in Florence making wood blocks used for stamping corzetti pasta at Romagnoli Pasta Tools. Corzetti pasta is a traditional, relatively large circular pasta that bears a stamp representing a special design, a family seal, or a symbol of the region in which the pasta was made. It is pressed into the pasta with a wooden block containing the outline of the design, very similar to art designs hand pressed onto fabrics. Flippo was just the person Joann was looking for. She became familiar with Flippo’s work through a friend and cookbook author Domenica Marchetti. Working with Flippo, he was soon making wood blocks for fabric printing along side the traditional corzetti pasta as they formed a unique international partnership. Flippo now makes wood blocks in Florence for Three Pines Studio and ships them to Michigan where she uses them for hand printed fabrics.
Below, a few of the wood blocks carved by Flippo Romagnoli of Romagnoli Pasta Tools and sent to Joann Condino laying out on the cabinets. These blocks are used to press designs on various textiles in Three Pines Studio.
Flippo has carved different wood block designs inspired by nature including insects such as butterflies and bees, and honeycomb patterns. He also has made wood blocks representing plants such as wheat, thistle, lavender, and now chestnut leaves and nuts. After Flippo performs his artisan magic, carving the wooden blocks, Joann gets busy pressing the images into artistic designs using fabric paints on various textiles including American-made cotton and linen. For example, she has at her disposal the images on the blocks, but she is the one who makes the linen come alive with fliting bees buzzing around plants on subtle honeycomb background patterns.
When you go to the bakery to get fresh bread you should not use plastic or paper bags, but cloth bags that breath with the cooling bread. Here we see a wheat motif on a fresh-baked bread bag with 3 o’clock baguette from Crooked Tree Bread Works in Petoskey.
The chestnut patterns look as if the trees are raining chestnuts at harvest time. She uses Flippo’s wooden blocks to hand stamp the images onto the fabric of functional items such as table runners, napkins, placemats, tea towels, aprons, tote bags, and bags for holding fresh baked bread. It is all beautiful and unique and, of course—there’s chestnut in the artwork!
It’s probably been 400 years since a hand carved chestnut motif from Florence has been stamped onto linen, but it’s happening now in Cross Village with the unique international arrangement set up by Flippo Romagnoli in Italy and Joann Condino in Michigan.
Now with young chestnut trees having survived their first year at their studio in Cross Village planted near their garden, wooden blocks representing nuts and leaves of the chestnut tree, and the production of original artwork representing chestnuts, she may be making the only original chestnut art in America. Yes, there are wood turners and some furniture makers who have done a great job with chestnut wood, but America has lacked fine art with chestnuts for decades. First, the wood blocks commissioned by Joann to Flippo in Italy; and then second, wood blocks used by Joann in her studio in Cross Village to depict chestnut art on kitchen fabric—it’s a brilliant international venture. The cloth is so warm and beautiful. I am sure there is not a dish that will ever be dried by one of these chestnut-adorned or other patterned tea towels as they appear too beautiful to use. I am guessing they will be cherished objects of art kept in dining rooms or the kitchen rather than utilitarian functional pieces. However, I must admit, the linen fabric really does a nice job drying the dishes (see previous photo, above).
To order the wood block print fabrics, especially those with chestnuts, please call Joann at
Three Pines Studio (231-526-9447). She can describe better for you the items available and their cost. If you happen to need a fall destination for travel, Three Pine Studio is at 5959 West Levering Rd. in Cross Village, MI 49723.
October 7th is their annual pumpkin festival and hundreds of glass pumpkins will be available in the studio, hand blown by local Michigan glass artists.
Chestnut cultivar ‘Precoce Migoule’ in the foreground and ‘Marigoule’ in the background, both trees grew 7 to 9 inches this summer after their fall planting in 2017. Here they are in July with ‘Precoce Migoule’ doing what it does best, producing copious male flowers, and ‘Marigoule’ taking advantage of the warm July day growing straight and tall. Within four years, these trees will be producing enough chestnuts to satisfy the art gallery’s chestnut festival.