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Opus 40

Opus 40 is a stunningly beautiful collection of sculptures set in an idyllic outdoor area in Saugerties, New York. The site is serene, and would be completely weird-free, if not for the fact that it was built entirely by hand and on top of that, entirely by one man.

Harvey Fite worked on Opus 40 decades, turning an old abandoned bluestone quarry into a six-acre surreal environment, the centerpiece of which is a nine-ton monolith. He expected to put 40 years (hence the name "Opus 40") into building his

massive sculpture. Fite used nothing but hand tools and blasting powder to build the beautiful structures. The creation includes finely fitted stone ramps and swirling terraces around pools and trees and fountains out of the rock bed.

Fite was born in 1903, went to law school and then went to study for ministry. He decided acting was more his thing, but he soon grew bored and eventually became a sculptor. In 1933, he started teaching at Bard College where he stayed until retirement in 1969. Despite working full time, he would find time to build Opus 40.

 

In 1938, he found the perfect place to work as well as a perfect source of sculpting material – an abandoned bluestone quarry. He bought the 12-acre property and built a house and studio. During this same period, he was invited to do restoration work on ancient Mayan sculpture in Honduras. This Mayan influence is evident in his work. When he returned to NY, he began clearing away the rubble and brush and began building.

The idea was to build pedestals for his sculpture, but soon the terraces took on a life of their own. There is no mortar or cement used anywhere in their construction. The statues displayed include a 2-ton "Tomorrow", a 4-ton "Quarry Family", and a 1/2 ton "Flame". The focal point of Opus 40 is a 9-ton monolith, which was raised into position in the 1950s using methods of the ancient Egyptians. Fite had planned to carve the piece but once in place he decided to leave it as it was. He then moved the other sculptures to the nearby woods and let the ramps be the main work.

In the early 1970s, Fite built a museum to house his collection of quarryman’s tools and artifacts.

Obviously, Opus 40 was a true labor of love for Mr. Fite, and something of an obsession. Perhaps it is only fitting, then, that the creator actually died on the site. In 1976 while riding a lawn mower, Fite, then 73, was catapulted over the side of the quarry when the machine got stuck in gear. Now, his sculptures stand as a reminder of the work he put in for decades.

Opus 40 is located in Saugerties on County Road 32. To stand in the open air, soaking in the beautiful scenery, realizing that one obsessed man built it all himself before plunging off of a cliff nearby is a truly overwhelming, weird experience. Opus 40 is open from noon to five p.m. every day.

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