To the uninitiated, the creation of a piece of art can seem almost like a magic trick: Because they don’t know how it’s done, they don’t think that they can do it. “I’d love to try that,” people will say, “but I can’t even draw a stick figure.”
The intimidation factor seems to be especially strong when it comes to forms of art that involve using unfamiliar tools or daunting materials, like blocks of stone. “A lot of people look at stonecarving as this mystical thing,” says sculptor Kevin VanHentenryck. “They mistake the hardness of the medium for a degree of difficulty working the medium, but the truth is that anyone can do it. It doesn’t require artistic ability, and people needn’t think that they have to have past experience with stone to work with it.” All they really need, he says, is a sharp chisel and a good hammer, and the willingness to spend some time on it.
On Saturday and Sunday, August 18 and 19, VanHentenryck will be on the grounds of Opus 40 in Saugerties to conduct a bluestone-carving workshop from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Participants can register for both days, one day or a half-day session. All tools and materials will be provided. The cost is $70 for a half-day session (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 2 to 6 p.m.); $120 for a full-day session, either Saturday or Sunday; and $175 for both days. There is a 30 percent reduction in those rates for those under age 12. VanHentenryck says that he has taught a child as young as 6 years how to carve; as long as they have the focus and motivation, he says, they can do it.
Originally from Oak Park, Michigan, VanHentenryck, 59, has more than 38 years of experience sculpting. He came to it while studying acting at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City, when he attended a screening of Savage Messiah, an early Ken Russell film about the life of sculptor Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. “There was a closeup of the sculptor’s hands working the marble,” says VanHentenryck, “and that was it. It turned me on to the idea of working stone as a plastic medium.”
He acquired some sculpting tools and materials and tried his hand at it. From the moment when he “put steel to stone,” he says, he knew that it was what he was meant to do. “It was incredible. It makes the word ‘epiphany’ sound too tame.”
Workbenches will be set up in tents for the workshop at Opus 40, with tools and a pile of stone at hand. The session will start with some basic exercises using hammer and chisel, and then move on to instruction in using an air-powered pneumatic tool (basically a small jackhammer, says VanHentenryck). About an hour in, the participant will be ready to start designing and then carving his or her own piece. “And you can accomplish a lot in two days,” says the sculptor.
The story of Opus 40 and Harvey Fite’s singleminded dedication to its existence is the stuff of which local legends are made – a tale almost mythical in nature of a man who purchased an abandoned bluestone quarry in Saugerties in 1938, intending to use it as a source of raw materials for his sculptural work as well as an outdoor gallery setting for large carved sculptures. After raising the nine-ton monolith at the heart of the site, he shifted his focus to making the setting itself the sculpture. The name of the work derives from the number of years Fite that expected it to take for completion, but he lost his life in a fall while working on it in 1976, the 37th year of his efforts there.
Today, the sprawling environmental work encompassing six acres is run by a nonprofit organization, and is on the National Register of Historic Places. “We think Opus 40 is the perfect spot to conduct a workshop like this,” VanHentenryck says. “We hope it’s the first of many there.”
The bluestone-carving workshop at Opus 40 with sculptor Kevin VanHentenryck takes place on Saturday and Sunday, August 18 and 19 from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Register for both days, one day or a half-day session. All tools and materials are provided. The cost is $70 for a half-day session (9 a.m. to 1 p.m. or 2 to 6 p.m.); $120 for a full day and $175 for both days. There is a 30 percent reduction in rates for kids under age 12. Opus 40, located at 50 Fite Road in Saugerties, is open Thursday through Sunday, and holiday Mondays, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. through October. 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. For more information and to register for the workshop, call (845) 246-9922 or visit www.opus40.org. For more information about Kevin VanHentenryck, visit www.kevinvanhentenryck.com.