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From The Transcript, May 21, 2005

By Mark E. Rondeau

CLARKSBURG — Gus Jammalo, owner of Gus’ Barbershop, says that cutting hair is very much an art form.

“No question about it. When a person is here, I look at their hair and their head and then try to decide what looks good on them,” he said. “I might even try to talk them into something different, because you’ve to shape the hair to the head. The sideburns have got to be the right length to fit their face and nose. It’s very artistic.”

“Every haircut’s different,” he said. “It’s a challenge to make it look good.”

When Jammalo left the Army in the 1950s, a friend convinced him to go to barber college. He started barbering in 1957 at a shop on River Street in North Adams, where Goodyear Auto Service Center is now. He has been barbering in his Union Street location in the city since 1984.

“I still love it,” he said of barbering. “I love to go to work. I’m 71 and I don’t want to quit. I like my job. I’ve got a lot of good friends in town. It’s fun. It’s a fun place.”

Jammalo is also a coin dealer. In fact, this interest in coins led to an even greater interest — painting. After he bought an autographed Norman Rockwell print of a man and his grandson looking at coins, Jammalo took it to the Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge to be authenticated.

“I became impressed with the Rockwell paintings, so I went back home and said: ‘I think I’ll start painting,’ ” Jammalo said. “I was inspired by Norman Rockwell’s paintings.”

So at age 54 in the mid-1980s, Jammalo began painting. He had always had an interest in art. In fact, as a teenager interested in taxidermy he had done paintings of fish. He has loved photography his whole life. However, he had no formal training in art.

In the years since, in a realistic style uniquely his own, Jammalo has completed more than 250 oil paintings. In addition to traditional canvas, he’s done paintings on saw blades, slates, and washboards.

He has painted such local landmarks as the North Adams Public Library and Johnson School; landscapes; animals such as dogs, cats, fish, birds, and tigers; famous people such as Albert Einstein, Elvis, Frank Sinatra, and Louis Armstrong; and a variety of other subjects such as a silver dollar, hobos, farm workers, lighthouses, and even souls ascending to heaven at the end of the world.

Often he draws and then paints from photos; other times he uses his imagination. “I just paint different things that I like,” he said.

His artistic projects have extended into nearby Vermont. Jammalo was a part-time barber in Readsboro from 1969 to 1978, where he ran his own shop. He received a warm welcome from residents.

“They would even shovel the steps for me at night when I would go up there in wintertime,” he said. “They were so grateful they would prepare it for me.”

He got to know everybody in Readsboro in those days: “The Bolognanis, the Marchegianis, many many people. They’re very nice people. They were good to me.”

During the time he worked in Readsboro, the Readsboro Chair Co. was still a going concern. “It was like the Sprague Electric Company of North Adams,” he said. “It was like the biggest thing in town. Everybody worked in the chair factory for 100 years.”

In fact, the kitchen table in Jammalo’s Clarksburg home where this interview took place was made at the factory. At one point about 30 years ago, he bought some used saw blades from the factory.

Readsboro resident Jim Finley, known as “Big Jim,” recently suggested painting a picture of the chair factory on a saw blade. Jammalo liked the idea — in fact he had already done such a painting of the Hoosac Tunnel — and he had a saw blade sandblasted. Then he treated the blade so he could paint on it. Betty Bolognani of the Readsboro Historical Society gave him a photo of the factory to work from.

“I had a small photograph. I had to draw it out. It took me a little time to draw it out, to do it right,” he said. “I had to make it a lot bigger, naturally. And then it’s a round saw blade — I made the roads a little rounded, to get the perspective.”

“Also, it’s a black-and-white picture. I had to put my own colors in from memory,” he said.

The saw blade is 54 inches in diameter and weighs about 70 pounds. He bolted it to a wall to work on it this past winter. He estimates the painting him took about 40 hours of work.

The factory went out of business in 1988 and was torn down in 1995. Jammalo has donated the painting to the Readsboro Historical Society. “I thought it would be something nice to do,” he said. “I’ve given it as a gift to the Historical Society because I wanted to give something back to Readsboro.”

On Tuesday night, May 10, about 35 town residents enthusiastically applauded as the painting was officially unveiled at the Readsboro Historical Society headquarters. Many who had worked in the factory were present, as were three generations of the Jammalo family.

As for the future, Jammalo is thinking of a painting project that tells a story, but for now he’s keeping it secret. He’s keeping his options in other ways, too. “I’ve still got my Vermont [barber’s] license in case I want to go back to Readsboro,” he said.

Feature Articles


Gus Jammalo with the painting he did of the former Readsboro chair factory on a saw blade from the factory. He donated the painting to the Readsboro Historical Society. (Photo courtesy Gus Jammalo)


Chair factory employed generations in Readsboro

By Mark E. Rondeau

READSBORO — The donation of a painting of the former Readsboro Chair Co. to the town’s Historical Society spurred memories among several residents who had worked in the factory over the years.

The company closed in 1988, and the last of its buildings were torn down in 1995.

“The Chair Shop...even though it’s been gone a few years, is still in the hearts of people in Readsboro. I dare say that probably three quarters of the group here tonight worked there, or some of their family members did,” said Betty Bolognani, of the Readsboro Historical Society. “The kids worked there in the summer before they went back to school.”

The painting — on a used saw blade from the factory — by Clarksburg artist Gus Jammalo was modeled on a historical photo of the factory. He ran a barbershop in the town from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. The painting was unveiled before about 35 Readsboro residents on Tuesday, May 10, at Historical Society headquarters.

The Readsboro Chair Co. changed owners and names several times in its 140 years in business. The Historical Society has many examples of the products from the factory, and just about everyone at the unveiling was sitting in chairs made there. These were built of hardwood in the early 1900s and still in good shape.

Tullio Marchegiani worked at the factory for several decades starting in 1943. He worked in the finishing room, and ended up as foreman of this department.

“In the early years they made a little bit of everything,” he said. “All kinds of furniture.” Before he worked there, in the early 1900s, the factory was famous for making furniture for auditoriums, he said.

When he worked there, the factory produced such things as cabinets, hutches, dining room sets, high chairs, rockers. The style of chairs changed as the years went on, he said.

“In its day it was quite a thing,” Marchegiani said. “From about the first of May [to] September all they made was school desks and school chairs, just about as fast as they could make them and ship them out all over the country.”

In its heyday the factory employed up to 250 people, down to about 125 people when the factory closed in 1988. Many women worked at the chair factory while their husbands worked at the local paper mill, he said.

Bolognani said that she regularly receives inquiries from people around the country wanting to know about the chair shop and how old the furniture they have from it is.

Ernie Bolognani, brother-in-law of Betty, was at one time part owner of the factory in the early 1960s. He was also finishing room foreman at the time.

“At the time I was there they specialized in hardwood type furniture, not pine. Later on it was a pine type furniture,” he said. “I didn’t care for [pine] that much. The hardwood furniture that I worked there with was much sturdier, much hardier furniture, more durable.”

He added, “We not only manufactured furniture and put our own name on it at the time, we manufactured furniture for other companies and they put their name on it — even though we made it for them. Subcontracting, if you will.”

One reason the company eventually closed down is because its wooden factory became outmoded not adaptable to new workplace safety standards. “It was an old factory, impossible to upgrade it to the point that it was really that safe. It was an all-wooden type building, a fire hazard, if you might want to put it in plain English,” he said. “Rather than put the money into it to upgrade it, they decided to let it go, I guess. It would have cost too much.”

When he mentioned to his mother that he was doing this story, this reporter discovered that two pieces of furniture he grew up with at home in North Adams — a sturdy stool and a sturdy bureau — were both made in Readsboro. The stool is still used daily.

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