Tom Maganaro was mesmerized when he visited Opus 40, the mind-bending 6.5-acre stone sculpture made by Harvey Fite in High Woods in Saugerties. “I couldn’t believe that one guy did that entire thing by himself!” said Maganaro. “We had just purchased this home in New Paltz, and I was inspired.”
To say he was inspired is an understatement. Maganaro, who has no formal masonry training and taught himself the art of stone work, has hand-built a patio, fountain, sculptures, a moon-window, and an almost medieval-styled gazebo next to a stream in his backyard.
“I had a pile of rocks and thought, ‘what am I going to do with them,’ and this is what I did,” he said. He is sitting inside his stone meditation room, decorated in a primitive way with a few animal skulls, a pipe, a walking stick and two handmade cedar chairs that are pieces of art themselves. “Everything that’s here I found in the woods,” said Maganaro. “The deer antlers or the turtle shell. It’s a way to pay homage to nature and the gifts it leaves behind. This place is sacred.”
How was he able to construct an eight-foot-by-eleven-foot stone turret featuring piles of oddly mismatched stone by himself? Maganaro sat back in one of his pair of red-cedar chairs and paused before he replied.
“I didn’t have any training, it just comes to me,” he said after reflection. “I look at the rocks and the land, and then I start to see the flow of lines and how they might connect. When I get stuck, then I just have to problem-solve and figure it out.”
While little beside massive prehistoric monuments like Stonehenge can be compared to Opus 40, the work Maganaro has done around his home in New Paltz is breathtaking. The driveway has a long rock wall that forms into a perfect circle. “I call that a moon-window because it’s perfect to view the moon from,” he said.
There are fountains and planters and even a small room built under a massive backyard stone fountain which he had to reinforce with steel and concrete. “It’s just a great place to disappear to for a while and relax and listen to the water flow,” he explained.
Maganaro’s stone work includes stones that others might toss aside. “I love the oddball rocks,” he said, pointing to a few that had greater texture, lighter color, striations or iron — anything that did not blend with the rest of the stones. “I like to highlight those stones and set them apart because there’s something beautiful about them,” he added.
The rocks come from quarries, from geologist friends, from old river beds, from his own land — wherever he can get his hands on them. “This wall was made from a lot of fractured cobblestones that they were selling for almost nothing because they didn’t have perfect lines,” he said, pointing. “I picked them right up and hauled them home.”
It’s hard to take in Maganaro’s property and its earthwork in only a single visit. There are so many details, bridges, and patios that blend into fountains that become retaining walls. The rocks seem to move and then shrink back to smaller, more intimate showcases.
Maganaro’s stonework is complemented by his wife Lorrenda’s gardening skills and his son Preston’s cedar work.
Lorrenda’s honeysuckle weaves up the corner of the stone gazebo. Irises highlight white, cobbly conglomerate stone sculptures as well as bleeding hearts in the shade next to yellow corydalis. “My peonies and spring flowers have all just about bloomed,” she said. “There’s a momentary, earthly suspension before the summer blossoms begin to unravel. I read an article about how good ‘earth walking’ is for you.”
She pointed to her well-manicured but bare feet. “They tell you to walk around on the earth for several minutes without your shoes on. Well, I do that all day, every day,” she said with a laugh.
The cedar benches, both poised in little stone and garden pockets, are distinctive in shape and size. The roots of the old red cedar in one of them hover over the top of the bench like a natural roof or trellis where the clematis began climbing.
“My son Preston has the gift,” said Maganaro proudly. “He made this one for me for Father’s Day,” he said, gesturing toward a bench that had armrests that moved through the air, like curtains attached but billowing at the same time.
Maganaro also uses driftwood to make chairs or raised garden beds. There are trellises, arbors and patio designs that would leave anyone, particularly a homeowner with a barren lawn or backyard, in awe.
The New Paltz stone worker and red-cedar craftsman is already a well-established restoration artist who has worked at the A.J. Snyder estate in Rosendale, at the film set of Road to Wellville filmed at Mohonk, and at several of the historic mansions that line the Hudson River. Whether the job involves reproduction of the masters, faux finishes, trompe l’oeil, or stucco veneziano, Maganaro is proficient and meticulous.
“I’m an artist, my mind is always working,” said Maganaro, as he conducts a tours through his home and studio. He’s a modern Renaissance man. The stone edifice that he built is where he goes “to breathe and to get my creativity going.” It’s quiet and peaceful, he said, “and there’s just something special in the design.”
His meticulously restored vintage cars stand next to his moon-window rock wall and archway. Anyone looking for outdoor artistry, stone masonry, patio, fountain or bluestone work can contact Maganaro, owner of Artistry in Motion, at 235-6754.