In today’s modern world, there’s an emphasis on instant gratification – likes, comments and opinions are all quickly exchanged with minimal effort. So, a sculpture project planned over the course of forty years by one man is a bit unheard of this days, unless you find yourself in Saugerties.
In 1938, artist Harvey Fite purchased an abandoned quarry in the High Woods of Saugerties to source material for his work, but soon realized that the quarry itself was to be his ultimate masterpiece. Fite, who was a founder of the fine arts department at Bard College, planned to work on transforming the six-and-a-half acre quarry in his free time over the next 40 years. He built around then-young trees, utilizing the quarry’s leftover bluestone pieces to create pedestals for his sculptures surrounded by winding walkways, subterranean paths and spring-fed ponds. Fite never reached the 40th year of his opus. He tragically died in 1976, the 37th year of the project, during a tractor accident while working on the piece.
Working with hand tools and often without any help, Fite utilized the techniques of dry keystone masonry – securing larger stones with smaller pieces instead of using any mortar. The site’s main sculpture – The Monolith – is not even bolted or fastened to its base, it is nine tons of stone perfectly balanced on a pedestal in the middle of the park. Fite used a pick-up truck and winch system to raise The Monolith to its current position, shimming it up with stones along the way.
While there is no new building taking place at Opus 40 other than routine maintenance and regular safety checks by a mason, Hurricane Irene in 2011 did destroy one of the Fite’s earliest built walls. It took some fundraising and over a dozen masons from around the world to seamlessly recreate Fite’s work. Visitors can even try their hand at dry keystone masonry in the dedicated sculpture area near the amphitheater (one visitor recently made a couch out of stone!)
According to his great-grandson, Arick Manocha, a tour guide at Opus 40, Fite was introverted and focused on his work, yet left room to take in the pleasures of the site – throwing parties in the quarry’s 16-foot-deep pool next to one of his first large-scale stone sculptures, “The Bather.” Manocha grew up playing hide-and-seek throughout his great-grandfather’s bluestone structure, breaking off icicles in the passageways and naming all the quarry’s ponds (Frog Pond is true to its name!).
“When you’re walking around, try to think about what he was thinking, and how much time we waste day-to-day, “ Manocha said. “Every time I do a tour I get more and more respect for him.”
For tours, memberships and more information, visit https://www.opus40.org
50 Fite Road, Saugerties
Thursday–Sunday & Holiday Mondays
10:30 AM to 5:30 PM
$3 Children ages 6 to 12
Children Under 6 Free
Information on School and Group Visits HERE.
Guided Tours are offered on Saturdays and Sundays at 11:30 and 2 PM. Cost is $5 per person for larger tours.
Private Tours (one to five people) $25
Please note: NO pets other than service dogs.