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Harvey Fite spent 37 years, sculpting alone, using only hand tools and blasting powder on his creation in Saugerties, NY. Fite expected to put 40 years (hence the name "Opus 40") into building his massive sculpture that spread over 6 acres. The creation includes finely fitted stone ramps and swirling terraces around pools and trees and fountains out of the rock bed.
Fite was born in 1903, went to law school and then went to study for ministry. He decided acting was more his thing, but he soon grew bored and eventually became a sculptor. In 1933, he started teaching at Bard College where he stayed until retirement in 1969. Despite working full time, he would find time to build Opus 40.
In 1938, he found the perfect place to work as well as a perfect source of sculpting material – an abandoned bluestone quarry. He bought the 12 acre property and built a house and studio. During this same period, he was invited to do restoration work on ancient Mayan sculpture in Honduras. This Mayan influence is evident in his work. When he returned to NY, he began clearing away the rubble and brush and began building.
The idea was to build pedestals for his sculpture, but soon the terraces took on a life of their own. There is no mortar or cement used anywhere in their construction. The statues displayed include a 2-ton "Tomorrow", a 4-ton "Quarry Family", and a 1/2 ton "Flame". The focal point of Opus 40 is a 9-ton monolith which was raised into position in the 1950s using methods of the ancient Egyptians. Fite had planned to carve the piece but once in place he decided to leave it as it was. He then moved the other sculptures to the nearby woods and let the ramps be the main work.
In the early 1970s, Fite built a museum to house his collection of quarryman’s tools and artifacts. Fite died in 1976, at the age of 73, when he accidentally drove his lawnmower over the edge of the quarry.