There are a handful of places and objects on the planet that photography under serves. Opus 40, in Saugerties, New York, is one of them. Built in an abandoned bluestone quarry in upstate New York by one man, Harvey Fite, Opus 40 is a contemporary American version of Stonehenge or the collection of Easter Island moai. It is one of my favorite places.
An aerial view. Photo by Tom Bookhout
Fite was a sculptor and fine arts professor at nearby Bard College when he purchased the bluestone quarry. If you have ever walked on a sidewalk in Manhattan, you have walked on bluestone from this or a nearby location. Using the rubble that had not become NYC sidewalks, Fite filled one six-and-one-half-acre section with hand-laid circles of bluestone paths and ramps, leading nowhere and everywhere, from fifteen feet below the ground level up to the magnificent centerpiece, the obelisk, a nine-ton, three-story-tall single stone, which from different perspectives seems to point at the nearby Catskill Mountains, join with the range, or appear to be the reason the Catskills are there. And Fite did it all alone, using ancient techniques. At first intended to be a showcase for his sculpture, over the next 37 years the site itself became Fite’s life work. He died in 1976.
Hurricane Irene in 2011 and Hurricane Sandy the following year delivered a one-two punch to the sculpture park; Irene saturated the ground beneath the ramps and walls and Sandy’s damage included a collapse of a very tall support wall. Fite’s stepson and his family have engaged the efforts of master stonewallers and stonemasons, who are using those stones that fell and can still be fitted together and finding others from local quarries to repair the damage and rebuild the broken sections. Where possible, they will employ Fite’s own tools and techniques to complete the repairs.
An estimated $30,000 is needed to fund the first stage of the work, and here, non-ancient techniques are being employed: an Indiegogo campaign is currently underway to raise the funds. Almost two months remain in the campaign, and over $6000 of the $30,000 has been raised as of today. The website has details of the perks sponsors will receive in return for their financial help.
If I had not been a student at Marist College, where Harvey Fite’s stepson was teaching, I quite possibly would still not know of Opus 40’s existence, even though I live in the same county. My teacher-friend grew up at Opus 40 and still resides there. In the early ’90s, I attended a friend’s wedding at Opus and in the summer of 1998, I volunteered there, helping direct parking for that year’s music acts. The quarry is a natural amphitheater and the obelisk is an eye-grabbing stage set; the concerts that summer included a blues festival, Orleans, and Pat Metheny.
Here is a brief video of Orleans performing at Opus 40 from around that time period:
The video below, made for the fundraising campaign, documents some of the landmark’s artistic significance and its cultural importance—with clips of Sonny Rollins performing there and Steve Earle, Chevy Chase, and Bela Fleck speaking about Opus 40—and details the amazing work the stonemasons have already contributed to the restoration project.
And this video features my friend explaining in greater detail the history of the quarry, his step-father, and how Opus 40 came to be.