Opus 40 is a large environmental sculpture in Saugerties, New York, created by sculptor and quarryman Harvey Fite (1903—1976). It comprises a sprawling series of dry-stone ramps, pedestals and platforms covering 6.5 acres of a bluestone quarry. Fite purchased the disused quarry site in 1938. He began creating sculptures for installation in the quarry space.
He quarried additional stone to build ramps and walkways to lead to the individual works, doing all the work by hand, and using the traditional hand tools that had been used by the local quarrymen before him. In 1960, as the ramp work expanded, Fite realized that the 1.5-ton statue, “Flame,” which occupied the central pedestal, had become too small for the scale to which his work had grown, and he replaced it with a 9-ton bluestone pillar which he had found in a nearby streambed. He removed “Flame” and its base, and continued to remove stone until he had formed a crater four feet deep in the spot where the monolith was to stand. He placed the stone so that it rested horizontally, with the tapered end over the hole. Using guy wires attached to a winch on the back of a pickup truck, Fite began the laborious process of raising the stone a few inches at a time, then propping it up with a crib of heavy wooden blocks. He continued this process until gravity took over, and the stone slid down into the hole, coming to rest at a 45 degree angle.
Fite constructed a huge A-frame out of 30-foot timbers and raised it over the monolith, then used a chain hoist to lift the stone and suspend it over the hole. Still working stone by stone, he filled in the hole and built up a pedestal, topped by a 3/4 ton capstone. Lowered into place, the monolith is held there entirely by its own weight and balance. The monolith remains standing after nearly half a century’s exposure to all kinds of weather.
In the early 1970s Fite built the Quarryman’s Museum on the grounds—a collection of folk tools and artifacts of the quarrying era.
It was around this same time that he finally succumbed to the pressure to give his masterwork a name. Opus is the Latin word for work, and 40 refers to the number of years he expected he would need to complete the work.
Fite died in 1976, in the 37th year of his creation. He died working on it, in a fall and left some unfinished areas. The following year, his widow Barbara Fite, created the nonprofit group which still administers Opus 40, and opened it to the public. Barbara Fite died in 1986, and her family continues to administer the organization. In 2001 it was added to the National Register of Historic Places.