‘There’s no other thing like it anywhere else in the world, but it takes maintenance’
Last September, a stone wall collapsed on the southwest side of the quarry at Opus 40. It was the first such incident in the over-70-year history of the site. At the time, the collapse was believed to be the result of water pressure from heavy rainfall that occurred earlier that evening. As it turns out, it seems that all that water was just the final straw in an inevitable process wrought by time and Mother Nature.
Opus 40 was built with mortarless dry key stonemasonry techniques intended to allow water to run through the structures, says grounds consultant Lee Walker. But according to a recent engineer’s report, those “internal voids” that allow water and small rock and soil particles to pass through, “over time, can fill and restrict the flow of water through the wall, causing the water to be trapped.”
“In other words,” says Walker, “they’re saying [Opus 40] is destined to fail, no matter how long it stands. Not because of the way Harvey built it, but because of what it is.”
And based on that engineer’s report, Walker says, an insurance claim to pay for restoration of the collapsed wall was denied.
So where does it go from here? Fixing the collapsed wall will be a big expense, he says. And several other places on the site in need of shoring up have been identified, too. “It’s not just fixing this wall; it’s what to do to make sure it doesn’t happen again. And that all takes money.”
Paying the piper
Opus 40 board member Brigid Walsh says that as unfortunate as it is that the insurance claim was denied, it does serve as a lesson about Opus 40 and landscape art in general. “It’s constantly subject to the elements, and will always need a lot of care.”
They’re hoping that the community will help preserve the future of Opus 40 by donating to a fundraising campaign to bring in expert stonemasons to repair the collapsed wall and prevent future damage to the site.
The first phase, says Walsh, is to raise $50,000. “We need this funding urgently just to start the work,” she says. The goal is to raise the funds by the end of April so work can be completed by the traditional Memorial Day opening. Otherwise the opening will be delayed.
Donations can be made at www.opus40.org and through the soon-to-be-launched campaign on crowdfunding site IndieGogo.com. Donations at certain levels will be rewarded there with extras like hats or t-shirts, Walsh says, and private stonemasonry workshops.
The work at Opus 40 will be done in partnership with The Stone Foundation of New Mexico, stonework preservationists dedicated to perpetuating the craft. Founding member Tomas Lipps and local mason Timothy Smith will oversee the rotation of stonemasons who will come into Saugerties for a week at a time to restore Opus 40. The masons will volunteer their time, says Walsh, but the funds raised will go to pay for their travel expenses and putting them up while they’re here. In addition, the fundraising campaign will cover the cost of materials and any equipment necessary to supplement Harvey Fite’s original tools, which will be used to as great an extent as possible in the restoration work.
“The people at The Stone Foundation are passionate about making sure this gets done in the same way that Harvey did it in the first place,” says Walsh. “They’re excited about the opportunity to educate people as well, so we want to coordinate with some educational institutions to bring students in to watch them while they do the work.”
The documentary team Impact Productions, who’ve purchased the rights to Harvey Fite’s life story, will capture the restoration process on film, to be available for people to view when they visit Opus 40 in the future, says Walsh. “We’re going to walk away from this with so much more understanding of what Harvey did. You’ll be able to go there and learn about it on a level that up until this point hasn’t been possible.”
Phase Two of the fundraising process will be to raise another $50,000 to maintain Opus 40 after the initial repairs have been made. “We don’t want to be in a position any more where we’re fixing damage,” says Walsh. “We want to be in a position where we can raise funds so we can do preventative work. Hopefully our community will rally around this, to understand how important this is not only to Saugerties and tourism but to Ulster County and the state of New York.
“Up to now, there have been no better caretakers for Opus 40 than Pat and Tad [Richards, co-directors], because they’re family and they get it; they understand the legacy and have been able to tell the stories about how everything came about. But as far as the technical aspects of what it takes to maintain something like this, we need help. There’s no other thing like it anywhere else in the world, but it takes maintenance.”