If you haven’t yet visited Opus 40, sculptor Harvey Fite’s 6 ½-acre earthwork in High Woods, near the Saugerties/Woodstock border, you’ve missed one of the most extraordinary attractions in the Hudson Valley/Catskills region. This mesmerizing maze of stone, water and sky demands hands-on, feet-on exploration, and also hosts a variety of interesting cultural programming during the warmer months of each year.
Fite, one of the founders of the Fine Arts Department at Bard College, spent time restoring Mayan ruins at Copán in Honduras while studying Mesoamerican indigenous sculpture, and in the process learned how to do dry-key stone masonry, a technique that uses gravity to create stable stone structures without mortar. In 1938 he purchased an abandoned quarry as a source for bluestone to sculpt, and began to position some of his larger pieces in that outdoor setting. Moving stone slabs around to showcase his statuary, he gradually discovered that the quarry itself was the sculpture that was to become his life’s work.
Calling it Opus 40 on the assumption that it would take him 40 years to complete, Fite perished in a tractor accident while maintaining the site, 37 years into the wall-building process. Ironically, he was using gas-powered machinery only to control vegetation from overtaking his creation. His masonry work was done with traditional hand tools, many examples of which are on display in the Quarryman’s Museum that you can visit on the Opus 40 site.
Fite’s monumental legacy is a wonderland of paths and ramps and steps, plazas and fountains and pools, spiraling upward in the center to a nine-ton monolith and melding at its rear edges back into the earth, still recognizably a working quarry. At its deepest points – pathways carved 16 feet below the surface of the surrounding ground – you will find respite from the heat on the sultriest summer day. Sit still enough beside one of its placid pools, made to reflect the sculptures perched on its rim, and a dragonfly might alight on you. It’s a thoroughly magical place.
During its summer season, Opus 40 is open to visitors from 11 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Thursdays through Sundays. Admission costs $10 for adults, $7 for seniors and $3 for children aged 7 and up. Leave your pets at home, but do bring a picnic. There are lovely lawns on the house side of the earthwork, and 55 acres of forest and meadow surrounding it, laced with nature trails.
Opus 40 is an unparalleled outdoor performance space. The international experimental theater Dzieci returns on June 22 and 23, presenting “the greatest (and only) East Molvanian circus in the world,” a Cirkus Luna! performance and workshop at 1 p.m. on Saturday and its visceral, innovative approach to Shakespeare’s Scottish play, Makbet, at 6 p.m. on Sunday. Both Dzieci Theater shows and the workshop involve lots of moving on and around the sculpture. Tickets cost $20 for Cirkus Luna! including the workshop afterwards, $30 in advance at $40 at the door for Makbet.
Opus 40 hosts the annual Psychic Fair on Sunday, July 14. On Saturday, July 27 at 2 p.m., the Centenary Stage Company will perform the Andrew Lloyd Webber/Tim Rice rock opera Jesus Christ Superstar. Tickets cost $35 in advance, $50 at the door. A Dance Party and Barbecue wind up the outdoor performance season on Saturday, August 31.
Saturday Art Walk Workshops go on throughout the summer at Opus 40, each running for five hours – 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. – and beginning with a light breakfast at the Quarryman’s Museum Gallery. A walk on and around the sculpture is a part of each class, followed by a picnic lunch at the end. Faheem Haider will conduct a Drawing Workshop on June 15, Laura Hinton a Poetry Workshop on July 13; and China Jorrin a Photography Workshop on August 17. Workshop fees are $60 each, $100 for two, $120 for all three.
New works by both Haider and Jorrin will be shown in the museum’s Fite Gallery this season, along with the photography of Nicholas Kahn and Richard Selesnick. Exhibition opening dates and artist talks will be announced on the Opus 40 website soon: www.opus40.org/events2019. That’s also where you can find links to order tickets to any of this season’s events, or call (845) 681-9352. Opus 40 is located at 50 Fite Road, just off Glasco Turnpike in Saugerties.