The nine-ton monolith at the heart of Opus 40 is more than the centerpiece of Harvey Fite’s massive work in stone, according to Tad Richards, Fite’s stepson and current artistic director of the site. The raising of the monolith represents a true sea change in Fite’s attitude toward his work: “It was the pivotal point of what Opus 40 is,” says Richards.
This Saturday, May 19, Opus 40 will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the raising of the monolith with an all-day celebration free of charge to the public.
Harvey Fite (1903-1976) was a sculptor and professor at Bard College. In 1938, he purchased an abandoned bluestone quarry in Saugerties, intending to use it as a source of raw materials for his work and as an outdoor gallery setting for large carved sculptures. After the raising of the monolith during the summer of ‘62, however, he switched gears and shifted his focus from simply placing sculptures on the grounds to a realization that, as Richards says, “The setting itself had become the sculpture.” The figurative pieces that had been on the quarry were moved to other places on the grounds, and Opus 40 emerged as the sprawling environmental artwork that it is today, encompassing more than six acres, the monolith at its core.
Along with the opening of the grounds for the season, an exhibit of photos curated by Richards will go on display this Saturday. “Opus 40: The First 20 Years” will reveal the early days of the site, from the 1930s through the 1950s. At 1:30 p.m. Tad’s brother, Jonathan Richards, who was present during the raising of the monolith, will hold a roundtable discussion with others who were there, explaining how the monolith was erected.
From 2:30 to 5:30 p.m., Opus 40 will host a square dance for all to join in, with experienced caller Sandy Corey. “When Harvey and my mother Barbara were young and building their lives,” says Richards, “they used to go square dancing. Harvey courted her at the Henry Wilgus General Store in High Woods, where the community gathered, and they had square dances there every Saturday night.” There will be something for children at the event, too, says Richards, at 11:30 a.m., when children’s book author and illustrator Iza Trapani will read from her work.
The event was originally scheduled for last fall, but Tropical Storm Irene got in the way. Opus 40 sustained damage from the storm, and Richards says that the celebration was postponed in part due to that, and in part because “we felt the community had more urgent things to be dealt with.” An intended performance of The Rocklins, a short play written by Richards based on a story by Harvey Fite about a young boy who learns about life from the spirits of great stone-carving cultures, has been rescheduled for Saturday and Sunday, June 9 and 10.
Opus 40 is located at 50 Fite Road in Saugerties. The site is open to the public in 2012 from Saturday, May 19 through October. Hours are Thursday through Sunday, and holiday Mondays, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission for Opening Day on Saturday, May 19 is free of charge; but regular admission is $10 for adults, $7 for students and seniors, $3 for children ages 7 to 12 and free for children under age 6 with an adult. No dogs are allowed. Picnicking on the grounds is welcome. The grounds may be reserved for special events on some days. For a schedule of events or more information, call (845) 246-9922 or visit www.opus40.org.