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The two RV Gypsies at Opus 40
August 30, 2014

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.

Opus 40 sign
broken bridge

The Quarryman’s Museum, a collection of folk tools and artifacts of the quarrying era.

The Quarryman’s Museum
The Quarryman’s Museum
inside The Quarryman’s Museum
inside The Quarryman’s Museum
iside The Quarryman’s Museum
Lee Duquette the brave

The Monolith and the main ramp. The Monolith weighs 9-tons and stands 13 feet high.  It was found by Fite in a stream in the nearby town of Ruby, brought over on a flatbed truck and raised using ancient techniques. As the two RV Gypsies explored Opus 40, the monolith was filmed from several different angles.

the Monolith and a few fall colors
a few fall colors

When this first structure was laid, it was a walkway into the unknown, before the Monolith was added.

part of the main ramp to the Monolith
part of the main ramp to the Monolith
part of the main ramp to the Monolith
panorama of the monolith and Karen Duquette
panorama of the monolith and Karen Duquette
panorama of the monolith and Karen Duquette
the monolith
the Monolith

There are three pools, the Fountain Pool, the Rectangle Pool and the Circle Pool. In Fite's bachelor and early married days, when the house still had no plumbing or electricity, the Circle Pool served as a refrigerator, A mesh bag with milk, butter and eggs was lowered into its icy water and pulled up as needed.

part of the three pools
the three pools
the monolith
Karen Duquette and the monolith
Karen Duquette and the monolith

The Passageway built 15 feet below the ground level.

passageway
passageway

Approaching the corner, the passage way got narrower.

passageway
tree in the corner of the passageway

As Karen walked around the corner, Lee surprised her and he took her photo from the ground level above.

Karen Duquette in the passageqway
Karen Duquette in the passageqway
Karen Duquette

The subterranean passageway can be about 15 degrees cooler than the area just above.

a potbole of water
Opus 40
one of many corners at Opus 40
Lee Duquette
Lee Duquette
bridge overhead
Karen Duquette under the bridge

Please continue on to page two of Opus 40 - amazing