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Opus 40 -- the view.

Opus 40: Environmental Sculpture

Field review by the editors.

Saugerties, New York

Opus 40 is a bit too beautiful for us -- we knew this as soon as we arrived. Driving there, we imagined it to be a terrifying blue-light pit, an abstract maze of Easter Island heads and Space Odyssey monoliths. The reality, at least by those standards, is disappointing. Opus 40, picturesque against the Catskills, crawls with serene couples and contemplative photographers.

Harvey Fite, a local sculptor and college drama instructor, spent 37 years building Opus 40 in an abandoned bluestone quarry, working alone, using hand tools and blasting powder. His work covered 6.5 acres, and all of its terraces, ramps, and steps -- built from countless thousands of individually-shaped rocks -- were stacked without mortar, a technique that Harvey learned while restoring ancient Mayan structures in Honduras. A 15-foot-high nine-ton monolith, completed by Fite in 1963, reamins its focal point.

Gray-haired tourists clamber down to the lower levels, pausing to appreciate a tiered rock wall here, a cornerstone there. One -- a home gardener, perhaps -- passes us on a stone bridge and stops to comment, reverently: "One man. All this work. Wow."

Harvey named the artwork "Opus 40" because he expected to complete it in 1979, 40 years after he'd begun work on the project. That didn't happen. In 1976 Harvey died, 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 suggestion that his death was ever viewed as maybe, just a little, bizarre or absurd. A plaque beside the walkway to the monolith honors Harvey and his wife, who oversaw the attraction until she died as well (not on a lawnmower).

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...."

In late 2021, Opus 40 received a $300,000 grant to repair and conserve all of its rocks.

Opus 40: Environmental Sculpture

50 Fite Rd, Saugerties, NY
New York State Thruway Saugerties exit, take Route 212 west to Woodstock; about halfway between the two towns hang a left at Shultis Corners onto County Road 32 (also called the Glasco Turnpike), go about two miles and look for the blue Opus 40 marker on left.
April 1 - Oct 31 Th-Su 11-5:30 (Call to verify) Local health policies may affect hours and access.
Adults $12.
RA Rates:
Worth a Detour
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Nearby Offbeat Places

Giant Steel Dinosaur SkeletonGiant Steel Dinosaur Skeleton, Saugerties, NY - 3 mi.
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In the region:
Harness Racing Museum and Hall of Fame, Goshen, NY - 47 mi.

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