Catskills Monolith
August 1, 2008 6:22 AM   Subscribe

"One of the largest and most beguiling works of art on the entire continent." So said Brendan Gill In the March 1989 edition of Architectural Digest. What was he describing? This place.

Opus 40 was the life-long work of Harvey Fite, a sculptor and academic who, in 1938, bought an abandoned bluestone quarry near Woodstock, NY, in the shadow of the Overlook Mountain.

Born in 1903, Fite was a fascinating man, who had been to law school, studied for the ministry and performed in a travelling theatre group before becoming an archaeologist and sculptor. He first became intrigued by the technique of dry key stone masonry as a member and the quarry of an archeological team restoring the Mayan ruins in Copan, Honduras, in the 1930s. When he bought the 12-acre piece of land that now contains Opus 40, his idea was to create a platform for his organic, Henry Moore-style sculptures. (Second photo taken by me)

But as his series of dry-stone platforms and terraces evolved, Fite realised that the terraces themselves had become their own work of art. So he left them as they were, grand platforms, and erected a monolith in the centre, using an A-frame to haul it into place. It forms the centrepiece of Opus 40, drawing visitors around its sloping terraces to view it from different angles , perspectives and levels.

The result is a place that is both primitive and modern, organic and structured.

The name Opus 40 reflects Harvey Fite's plan to finish his work in 40 years. It did not come to pass. He died in 1976, 37 years after beginning work on Opus 40, whilst mowing his lawn.

Today Opus 40 is open to the public, and the quarry has been left as it was when Harvey Fite last worked on it, 32 years ago. (My photo)
posted by essexjan (15 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Yay opus 40! I grew up near there, what a great place. Lotta mosquitos in the summer though.
posted by sandking at 6:34 AM on August 1, 2008

Opus 40

Well she tossed all night like a ragin' sea
woke up an' climbed from th' suicide machine
with her spanish candles an' her persian poems
stuck on th' rocks inside opus 40 stoned
an' scratchin' he wrists in the pourin' rain
she collapses down upon th' ocean floor again

Tears in waves minds on fire
Nights alone by yr side

Catskill mansions buried dreams
i'm alive she cried but i don't know what it means
somewhere out there across th' moonlit sands
there's a line drawn like th' lines on her own shand
an' slammin' her eyes lockin' th' door
she collapses down upon th' ocean floor again

Tears in waves minds on fire
Nights alone by yr side
posted by snofoam at 6:44 AM on August 1, 2008

Oh yes. I stumbled upon that place, it was really something. It's much more DIY than it looks in some of those pictures. I haven't read all the links, but the story we were told there was that he started out by building a sort of podium stage, that was to hold an as yet non-existing sculpture that he planned to make. Perhaps as a way of avoiding getting started on that, the setting for this sculpture grew and grew.

Unfortunately, some of the maze like canyons have poor drainage, making a perfect breeding ground for mosquitoes.

The logistics of doing this single handedly are truly inspiring.

Thanks for reminding me of this, essexjan.
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:52 AM on August 1, 2008

It looks beautiful, will have to remember that the next time I'm in the area visiting.
posted by Fizz at 6:54 AM on August 1, 2008

God, how annoying...another reason to be incredibly, selfishly furious that the extraordinary holiday rental - the restored Saugerties lighthouse - appears to be booked solid forever!

We "found" the impossibly romantic, fairy tale storybook Victorian Saugerties lighthouse about eight years ago - it perches prettily on its own little rocky outcrop at the mouth of a Hudson river creek - at the end of an adorably rambly hidden path.

When we learned it was actually rented out on a bed & breakfast basis, we stupidly promised our sweet little pleading sons that one day we'd stay there too!

Now the boys are great hulking semi-adults. And we - their hopeless parents - are still trying to rent the bloody place. Apparently along with half the rest of NY state!
posted by Jody Tresidder at 8:12 AM on August 1, 2008

Reminds me of the Coral Castle...
posted by stenseng at 8:23 AM on August 1, 2008

Correction: "He first became intrigued by the technique of dry key stone masonry as a member and the quarry of an archeological team restoring the Mayan ruins..."

posted by essexjan at 8:48 AM on August 1, 2008

They have some really gorgeous, friendly dogs that hang out in the visitor center too.
posted by spicynuts at 10:59 AM on August 1, 2008

Yes, I saw this one when I was there, spicynuts.
posted by essexjan at 11:12 AM on August 1, 2008

YES! So friendly. I love that dog. Price of admission to Opus 40? Not so much.
posted by spicynuts at 12:26 PM on August 1, 2008

It's full of (Borscht Belt) stars...
posted by ericbop at 12:41 PM on August 1, 2008

looks pretty cool, I'll have to bookmark and add it to my quest destinations.
posted by edgeways at 2:00 PM on August 1, 2008

I love that dog. Price of admission to Opus 40? Not so much.

If there's a group they'll negotiate on price if you call in advance. We were a group of six, and they let us in for $7 each instead of $10 and one of our group also got a free family membership because in total we'd paid more than $40.
posted by essexjan at 2:09 PM on August 1, 2008

It used to be open to the public only one or two days a year, so actually getting to see it was a very special event indeed. I loved the Quarryman's Museum, which is less a museum than a piece of art unto itself.
posted by bonefish at 2:40 PM on August 1, 2008

The museum is awesome, I agree.
posted by essexjan at 4:05 PM on August 1, 2008

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