WILMINGTON, MA — John M. Russo, age 94, a long-time resident of Wilmington and a renowned artist fondly known as the “Man of Steel” passed away peacefully on December 31, 2018.
John was born in Lawrence, MA, on June 17,1924 (Bunker Hill Day); he was the cherished son of the late Mariano “Mike” and Francesca (Moncada) Russo. John along with his brother Trio were raised on Union Street in Lawrence above Fisichelli’s Bakery. John attended Lawrence Public Schools and was a graduate of Lawrence High School with the Class of 1942. Following graduation, John, took a welding course and then went to work at the Portsmouth Navy Yard building and welding submarines for the War efforts as World War II was underway.
When the War ended, John, took a job at the Wood Mill and eventually became a Union Shop Stewart. John worked at the Wood Mill for several years before they slowly started shutting down, moving the work overseas and laying off their employees. John’s ability to learn his welding trade allowed him to find steady work; one of his most notable jobs was building the first chemical plant in Wilmington that is now known as the Olin Chemical Superfund site. While working at the Mill, John became interested in Performing and Visual Arts and joined the Lawrence Theater Players and L.G.M. Theater in Lowell; there he acted, directed and wrote short plays. John was a natural in the arts; even in his early school days he showed an avocation for drawing and was soon more interested in cultivating his artistic talents.
John went on to take art classes; he studied human anatomy and sculpting and took classes in figure drawing and sketching at the Cambridge Adult Center. John started with charcoal or pencil, then on to oils and pastels. John also homed in on his skills by taking night courses at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. While on lunch break at Olin Chemicals, John, would practice what he learned and make detailed sketches of his fellow workers. John was also able to incorporate his welding experience with his knowledge of art and sculpting and create his own original direct metal sculpting technique.
John met the “love of his life” Louise Nardo in 1949 on United Nations Day during a performance at the Oliver School in Lawrence. It was love at first sight for John and he got the courage to ask her to join him and his friends at the United Nations Festival in New Hampshire; everyone had a great time. One thing led to another and the couple soon became inseparable; they married on April 2, 1950 at the Unitarian Church in Lawrence. John and Louise spent over 68 wonderful years together before her passing on November 18 of this year; John was truly heartbroken when he lost his beautiful wife.
John and Louise lived in Tewksbury for several years before moving to Wilmington where they resided for over 50 years. John and Louise raised three wonderful children and enjoyed being grandparents to six grandchildren as well as 12 great-grandchildren.
At their home in Wilmington, John set up shop in their garage on the corner of Middlesex Ave and Clark Street, where he created some of the most amazing pieces of art. John continued to work in the welding industry but was spending more time cultivating his torch creating art. Finally, in 1961, John brought some of his pieces to local art show in Cambridge; he left several sculptures to see if there was any interest in his unique pieces and within an hour, he received a phone call to see if there were any more pieces available for sale and his career as an artist was in full bloom.
As the demand for John’s art work increased, he made the decision to quit his welding job and become a full-time sculptor. John’s art was “poetry in motion” his pieces all contained a sense of movement and action demonstrated in positioning a work leaning forward or leaping through the air.
Throughout the years, John’s art has been exhibited throughout the New England States and New York City; he was commissioned to do many special pieces including a sculpture of “Secretariet” for its owners. John’s themes have also included politically influenced pieces that portrayed scenes of Vietnam peasants during the 1960’s; but whatever the theme, John, always put his heart and soul into every piece he created.
John’s works have won numerous prizes and patrons, among them other famous artists. In 1970, John’s unique sculptures were featured to a wider audience when Boston’s WBGH Chanel 2 aired an interview with the amazing artist.
For over 20 years, John, traveled to many art exhibits to display his unique sculptures; many times, he took his family along mixing business with pleasure. As all the years of traveling took its toll, John, retreated from all the Art Shows and took a teaching job at the Shawsheen Vocational Technical High School Teaching Metal Fab, Machine Shop, Graphic arts and Technical illustration. John brought his passion for art as well as his many talents to the students at Shawsheen Tech; his pieces, a metallic tree that he worked on with his students and a ram’s head, the school’s mascot, are featured in the entry way of the building. John dedicated himself to the school and his students for more than 20 years; this was a job he thoroughly enjoyed.
John was the beloved husband of 68 years to the late Louise (Nardo) Russo, devoted father of Linda Aspeslagh of Amesbury & her partner Tim Regan, Leslie Champoux & her late husband Bart of Belchertown and Michael Russo & his wife Peggy of North Chelmsford. Loving “Papa” of Kenneth & Rachel Aspeslagh, Glen & Sothy Aspeslagh, Kristen Champoux, Michael Russo, Kerry & Ron Yost, Wendy & Larry Johnson and Great-Grandchildren Tabitha, Sonja, Nicholas, Sam, Heidi, Liana, Natalia, Lillian, Madden, Morgan, Ayla and Avery. Cherished son of the late Mariano “Mike” and Francesca (Moncada) Russo, dear brother of the late Trionfro “Trio” Russo.
John’s family would like to thank their caregiver, Karen Burns, who provided loving support and care to John, and also his wife Louise during the final years of their life.
Family and friends will gather for a Celebration of Life at the Tewksbury Country Club, 1880 Main St. (Rte. 38), Tewksbury, MA, on Monday, January 14th at 11:30 a.m.
In lieu of flowers, donations in John’s memory may be made to the All Care Hospice, 210 Market St., Lynn, MA 01901 or to the American Heart Association, 300 5th Ave., Suite 6, Waltham, MA 02451.
Arrangements are under the direction of the Nichols Funeral Home, Wilmington, MA.
(NOTE: The above obituary is from Nichols Funeral Home.)
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