The Fite fight is finally over.
Harvey Fite’s sundered life-sized masterpiece of stone sculpture, statuary and adjoining buildings will be rendered whole again. Sited in a bluestone quarry in Saugerties, watched over by a brooding stretch of the Catskills escarpment, the outdoor sculpture gallery titled by its creator as Opus 40 had been missing only the nearby house built by the man himself.
Owned up until the ink from the signatures dries by Patricia and James (Tad) Richards, the house gained a respectable notoriety reaching as far as the pages of The New York Times after that august paper reported a ruckus noisy enough to be heard down the river.
During various attempts at running the Fite house as a bed-and-breakfast, a short-term rental and even listing the land around the structure for tent camping, the house located on the same parcel as the 6.5-acre sculpture garden instead became the site of numerous loud nighttime galas which riled the neighbors and non-plussed the non-profit foundation charged with stewardship of the creation.
The fracas culminated in the erection of a tall green hurricane fence, effectively quarantining the Fite house from the sculpture garden. The erection of the barrier generated a brief rebellion by sign-waving protesters who claimed the divisive structure warped the sense of balance intended by Fite’s vision.
For its part, the foundation claimed the fence prevented tipsy revelers from causing damage to the sculpture or inadvertently falling into the open quarry. The artist himself had perished when he fell into the quarry, his riding mower after him, in 1976.
It wasn’t long before Richards and the foundation came to terms. The parties ceased, the fence came down, and both sides have since coexisted in a quiet state of détente.
“All of us at Opus 40 are deeply gratified to have reached this deal with the Richardses and extremely thankful to them for their decades of dedication and commitment to Opus 40,” said Dr. Jonathan Becker, who has chaired the organization’s board of directors since 2017.
The goal is to open the 3547-square-foot house to visitors, allowing them to look out over the quarry and see the sculpture as Fite must have seen it over the 37 years he spent toiling to bring his vision into existence, But it will not be immediately available to the public. Prior to being ready for public access, the house will require extensive renovation and repairs.
Opus 40 will launch a capital campaign to raise the funds for the restoration. “It will likely be a two-to-four-year process,” predicted Opus 40 executive director Caroline Crumpacker, “with sections of the house opening as rehabilitation and repairs are made.”
Opus 40 hopes Fite’s former studio — now called the Barbara Fite Room, named after the artist’s wife — as early as late summer of this year.
The foundation, Opus 40, was founded in 1978 as a 501 (c)3 nonprofit.
The house will be run in cooperation with Bard College. Fite founded the college’s art department and taught as a professor there for 36 years before his retirement in 1969. “It’s an honor to participate in the preservation of this unique sculpture,” said Bard College president Leon Botstein, “and land art made by an alumnus and long-time faculty member of Bard and our neighbor in the Hudson Valley.”
The purchase was made possible in part by major support from the Thompson Family Foundation, the New York State Assembly, and the Town of Saugerties. The Richards will donate statuary on the property to Opus 40.
Crumpacker noted her gratitude to the Town of Saugerties for its support during the process of fundraising to purchase the home. She noted that town supervisor Fred Costello had been “a marvelous ally and support” to the organization.
“I am thrilled,” said Costello, “that Opus 40 sculpture park has acquired Fite house and that Harvey Fite’s legacy, which means so much to Saugerties, will be preserved on this unified site, as was intended. I know that the expanded organization will be a wonderful learning resource, art resource, and tourist resource for our community for a long time to come.”
Fite’s land sculpture, with its winding walls and enormous nine-ton monolith balanced at its center, is recognized as a national historic place.