Values carved in stone
Anthony Sciolto cradles a stone chisel as if it is an extension of his arm. He smiles. He’s comfortable. It has been his life.
Sciolto loves his work and now, at 95 years old, he’s not about to retire. He doesn’t have far to commute.
Sciolto has lived on Dyer Avenue in Cranston for decades. The monument company he started is just across the street.
The lot is filled with monuments of different sizes and colors. The highly polished stones, many waiting for inscriptions, reflect the sky. Angels, the face of Jesus and the Last Supper are depicted on some. And there are other carvings – some are almost life-size – where angels, with wings raised, belie their granite earthly connection.
There’s a permanence and peace here, although, quite obviously, this is only a holding place in their transition from ordinary rock into enduring marker and art. There’s also life.
Anthony Sciolto, the younger one, is sand blasting a monument in a curtained area of the work shed that extends from the front office. Stencils, bearing names and dates and the face of a cat, cover the gray and black-specked granite.
The senior Sciolto looks on with approval as his son inspects the work, to determine if the sand – actually carbonate – has cut deep enough into the polished surface.
“He was my helper,” Sciolto says of his son, “and now I’m his helper.”
They are a team.
When they installed the tablet at the Warwick Station Nightclub Fire Memorial on Veterans Memorial Drive this October, the father drove the forklift while the son oversaw the placement. The tablet is the centerpiece of the park’s remembrance of 10 Warwick residents and 90 others who died on Feb. 20, 2003. So much more than the tablet is the work of A. Sciolto and Son Monument Inc. at the park. They are responsible for six granite benches and the bricks that bear the names of the victims and those whose contributions helped make the monument possible.
Sciolto said he has a love for the business because it can bring comfort in grieving and sorrow.
“Everything you are doing is for a lost soul, and you try to make a widow smile because she has something no one else has,” he said.
Cutting stone must have been in Sciolto’s genes, for he was not his father’s apprentice.
His father, Vito, was born in 1890 in Sicily and came to this country at the age of 16. He built stonewalls as a trade. The family lived on Federal Hill. Anthony was born in 1917. He was one of seven children.
When his father started his monument business, he offered his son a job but Anthony could not afford the $15 a week pay. He found work in the Providence shipyard, then First National and later Cranston Print Works where he mixed colors for fabrics.
But he had a love for creating things and the work his father did.
He decided to follow his heart and bought the land on Dyer Avenue. His father’s health was failing and his stepmother said Anthony wouldn’t be able to make a go of the business. That was 1950.
“The more she put me down, the more I achieved,” he said. Sciolto kept his night job at Cranston Print Works and worked the monument business days. He started off with a few stones on credit from a quarry in Vermont. When he sold those, he paid off the quarry and bought some more. His competition took notice. They tried to put him down and discredit his work but that only encouraged him.
“If they are talking bad about you, you’ve got to be good,” he says.
He also learned the value of growing and not letting one’s expectations get ahead of one’s ability to meet them.
“You start off small and you’ll get ahead,” he said.
Looking back on his life, Sciolto says he also learned that money isn’t that important. It’s on his list, but well below his children, his work and the church.
“You have to like what you are doing,” he says. “You have to like making people happy.”
One of the family stories is that Sciolto was brought down by an illness that kept him bedridden for a long time. He hired someone to help keep the business going and had the man carry stones across the street so he could carve them in bed.
Along with a love of one’s work, Sciolto cites honesty and being fair as essential attributes.
He remembers – the rage is still in his voice today – being told by school officials that he wouldn’t amount to anything and he would be best off working for his father but he didn’t do that. As it turned out, his own son came into the business, and his daughter, Nancy. She keeps the books, along with his granddaughter, Doreen. There are two more daughters, Donna and Elizabeth Ann, who are not in the business.
“I should have had three sons and one daughter,” he laughs. “Then I’d be fishing every day.”
Family has always been an important part of Sciolto’s life. Family photos adorn the office walls, along with letters from customers and mementoes of the family gathered for a picnic on the banks of Print Works Pond, which is in back of the Dyer Avenue shop. Later photos include a camper and a summer cottage they had at Matunuck. For many years, Sciolto and his wife spent their winters in Florida, although he was bored with a lack of work. He took up making dollhouse chairs just to do something with his hands.
Doreen laughs as she recalls the story of how her grandparents met. Sciolto and a friend used to frequent the dancing halls popular at the time. On entering one of them on Federal Hill one night, the boys spotted two girls and Sciolto said, “I’ll take the short one.”
The short one was Gertrude and she was his wife for 71 years. They hit it off immediately but Sciolto wouldn’t marry until he knew he had enough money so she didn’t have to work. It took two years.
Until about 10 years ago, they went dancing regularly.
After Gertrude’s death at 93 last July, Sciolto takes more and more solace in the business and helping his son and working with stone. He talks about stone as if it had life. Westerly granite, which is no longer available, he says, was some of the best for carving. Now, some of the better stone comes from Barre, Vt.
Sciolto looked over the pictures and news clippings that adorn the office. He pointed to a photograph of the Bishop Russell McVinney memorial. It is one of many that his company built. The company also built the memorial for the victims of the Station Nightclub fire in nearby St. Ann’s Cemetery; it features a large angel with outstretched wings.
The work of carving has changed with the ages. Diamond bit chisels and saws have replaced tools that required almost constant sharpening. Computers layout what is to be cut into the stone. But some carving is still done by hand, although a lot of it is imported from Italy.
Looking back, Sciolto has only one regret.
He wishes his father, who died at the age of 51, had lived long enough to see him succeed. Now Sciolto exults in the work of his son.