A career set in stone

BARRE, Vt. For over three decades, sculptor Gary Sassi has owned and operated Celestial Memorials in Barre City.

While his future isn't set in stone, the day is coming soon when the 67-year-old will no longer be the rock that this community has relied on for over three decades.

Gary Sassi bought Celestial Memorials from his father, who built the studio in 1948.

"As a young boy, I always wondered what went on in here and we would always come in here after work and clean up the chips, do anything my father wanted to do, but as I grew older, and in high school I was interested in art," Sassi said.

Sassi went to UVM and after graduating , attended the Academy of Fine Arts in Italy for three years. Then he came back to Barre to make monuments and memorials.

He created the 7-Ton Cape May Fisherman's memorial in New Jersey.

"Always as a sculptor, we're honored that our local people choose a particular sculptor to do your memorial, it's very exciting for us," Sassi said.

For the last three years, Sassi has been working on a memorial for two of his friends, Glenn Loati and his wife Lori. The two wanted Sassi to make it, before he decided to hang up his sculptors' tools.

"We wanted something that's unique, you know that's unique to us and something that would really showcase his talent as a sculptor. You know, he's a world class sculptor," Loati said.

"Glenn and Lori have been very patient. There was an understanding when we started this that I would do it as I could find time to do it, but every moment that I am working on it is exciting. Even I see it as it changes and it's rewarding for me," Sassi said.

They picked a block of granite at Rock of Ages in Barre, brought in a friend to model for the monument's most prominent feature, and handed it off to Tosi Custom Sandblast to make the roses and poem permanent.

"With Gary, he wants to do it the best that he can do it and to the best of his ability at the same time he has a classic sense about it, of what should be done and how it should be done," sandblaster Michael Gaydos said.

When the monument is finished it will be placed at Hope Cemetary in Barre City, where Glenn and Lori have their plots picked out.

"Yeah some people kind of wonder, it's like, it's a gravestone... but it's like there is a lot of sentimental value for us in a way. Having Gary doing it and you know having it done on Barre great granite, but you know mostly, having Gary do the work for us," Loati said.

But when it comes to work, Sassi is looking to slow down, leaving a hole in a community that no headstone could it fit. He's hopeful that there's someone out there who can take over.

"I would love to teach a new sculptor right here in my studio. We would be very blessed to have him, or her stay and learn and work in the industry carving these memorials," Sassi said.

A renowned sculptor and artist with a heart that's anything but stone. With each piece of granite Gary Sassi carves, he's giving others peace of mind.