Opus 40 - Environmental Sculpture
Saugerties, New York
A bit too beautiful for us -- we know this right away. Driving there, we imagined Opus 40 to be a terrifying blue-light pit, an abstract maze of Easter Island heads and Space Odyssey monoliths. The reality is disappointing. Opus 40, picturesque against the Catskills, crawls with serene couples and contemplative photographers.
Built out of an old bluestone quarry covering six acres, Harvey Fite spent 37 years, sculpting alone, using hand tools and blasting powder. A nine-ton monolith is its focal point.
Gray-haired men clamber down to the lower levels, pausing to appreciate a tiered rock wall here, a cornerstone there. One passing us on a stone bridge has to comment. "One man. All this work. Wow."
In 1976, Harvey died at age 73 when his riding lawnmower stuck in gear and went over the edge into the quarry, hurling him to his death. "He died instantly," the ticket clerk told us, with no trace of amusement. A plaque beside the walkway to the monolith honors Fite and his wife.
The story of Harvey's death cannot be found in the Opus 40 brochure, which instead waxes poetic about this "monumental environmental sculpture" and "total artistic environment." From the brochure:
"Sit in quiet contemplation of a work of art and its relationship to the grandeur of nature around it."
"Opus 40's scope makes it a rewarding afternoon outing for an individual or a family. The scale, the hugeness of the piece, allows you to participate in the artistic experience of Opus 40, creating visual change as you move from area to area. Every angle, every vista is something new...."
"Opus 40 was originally conceived as a setting for Fite's large stone carvings, but the carved sculptures began to be overpowered by their magnificent setting and Fite removed them...."