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OPUS 40 refers to the 40 years Fite expects to put into the construction of the massive sculpture. But as he began moving those first stones back in 1939, he had no such dream. A quarry in the middle of the woods that has been standing idle for 30 years is nothing to inspire visions. It is a pile of rubble, grown over with brush. When Harvey Fife first stood there on its edge, he was not thinking of it as the raw material for one great monumental sculpture, but as an endless source of stone for works of a more conventional size.
Opus 40 began to emerge as a setting to display those works. Fite cleared away the brush and surface rubble, and at the high points of the quarry began to construct pedestals for his larger pieces. Then he built ramps to lead up to and between the pedestals. As he worked, it became apparent to him that what he was building was not a simple series of pedestals for sculpture, but a sculptured environment to set off a collection of work, a total expression in which the carved pieces would serve as individual statements.
With this concept in mind, he began to shape the sweeping rhythmic terraces, with the accents of steps and pools, that compose Opus 40. The technique he used is an ancient method called ''dry keying", which relies on the careful fitting of stone upon stone, and the pressure of the mass, for its stability. The ''keys" are large stones placed at intervals throughout the wall, which support and are held in place by the smaller surrounding stones.
There is no mortar or cement anywhere in the construction; as a result, it is not susceptible to the ravages of erosion. In the normal course of events, Opus 40 could easily be standing ten thousand years from now.
From the foot of the main ramp, the development of Fite's skill in fitting stone is dramatically evident. The southeast section, to the left, was the first of the lower areas that Fite sculptured, and the roughness of the technique stands in clear contrast to the remarkable fineness of the walls across the ramp.
As the major work grew, the smaller pieces seemed to shrink into it. The statues on the left and right - the two ton Tomorrow and the four ton Quarry Family were holding their own, but the central figure, a half ton carving called Flame, was totally lost in the massive scale.
In a creek bed a few miles away was a huge stone, Fite had first spotted it in 1952, and knew it was the stone he needed to establish the central focus of Opus 40. But there was a problem of disputed ownership of the stone, and it was twelve years before Fite could get clear title to it and bring it to his quarry.
Raising the nine ton monolith into position was the single most challenging problem in the construction of Opus 40. The method Fite chose derives from principles used by the ancient Egyptians. He removed Flame and its base, and dug a hole four feet deep in the spot where the monolith was to stand. Then he brought the stone in to rest horizontally with the tapered end over the hole. The stone was then tipped into the hole, raising the larger end, and a crib of heavy wooden blocks was inserted beneath it. Jacking up the heavy end a few inches at a time, Fite built up the crib until the stone was resting at approximately a 45 degree angle. It was then pulled into an upright position by guy wires attached to a winch in a pick-up truck, and held in place by countering wires.
A huge A-frame was then constructed out of 30 foot timbers, and raised over the monolith in the same fashion. A chain hoist with a half ton capacity was fitted to the top of the A-frame in order to haul up the ten ton capacity chain hoist that was needed to lift the stone. The monolith was then raised, and the base was built up beneath it, topped by a three-quarter ton capstone. The monolith, its bottom trimmed perpendicular to the center of gravity for maximum purchase, was finally lowered into place, held there entirely by its own weight and balance.
Fite had a rough plan for carving it, but once the monolith was in its place on the central pedestal, he realized that it was perfect as it was. Opus 40 had become a work of art that had nothing To do with carved sculpture. He removed the other statues to the surrounding woods, and allowed the main work to express itself in its own terms.
From an old flyer on Opus 40
Opus 40 is located on Fite Road, off Fishcreek Road near the intersection with Glasco Turnpike, in Saugerties, NY. Going West from Saugerties on Rt 212 (towards Woodstock) there are signs where you turn.
|The story of the quarry itself begins with
the history of the stone. The quarry lies in a rock formation called the Hamilton Bench,
which runs for approximately 50 miles along the eastern foot of the Catskill Mountains,
with an average width of about 5 miles, and a depth of nearly half a mile. The quarry
walls and bedrock floor contain the markings of millions of years of history, from the
geological age known as the Upper Devonian period.
The clearest reading of these markings is found in the area in and around the large sunken section to the north of the monolith, which Fite plans as an amphitheater. The flat white rock which lies on the surface where the soil has been cleared away is glacial rock. The grooves that run along it in perfect straight lines were etched by Ice Age glaciers as they moved slowly across the land many thousands of years ago. Moving down a few feet and a few hundred thousand years to the ledge on the northern corner of the amphitheater, there is rock that is heavily swirled. This was turbulent sea bottom, carved into waves of rock by the restless churning of prehistoric ocean waves. And on the amphitheater floor, some twelve feet lower and millions of years earlier, rock with the gentle ripples of a sandy beach can be found. In the floors and running up through the ages along the quarry walls, in fingerprint-sized pock- marks, are the fossils of bracheopods, one of the earliest invertebrate forms of life.
It was a much later form of life, man, that began digging back down again through these layers of stone. The hardness of the bluestone made it ideal for city sidewalks and curbstones, and during the nineteenth century this area was the site of an active quarrying industry to supply the paving needs of New York City.
The marketable stone normally begins from six to ten feet below the surface, where the pressure has forced the needed degree of hardness. The stone was quarried in flat slabs, the thinner layers being used for paving stones and the thicker ones for curbstones. The quarrymen used drills and wedges to remove the stone and the drill marks and layers are still visible in many of the quarry walls of Opus 40.
As they moved ahead into the rock walls, the quarrymen would throw the broken and unusable pieces behind them, leaving huge mounds of bluestone rubble. When the turn of the century brought the advent of the pneumatic tire and the introduction of reinforced concrete for paving, the quarry industry died, and these rubble-piled quarries were left as they were at the disposal of the local flora and fauna.
Open each Fri-Sun Memorial day-Labor day (weekends thru Nov 1st) noon-5pm
Admission is charged
In addition to the outdoor sculpture, a small museum of quarrying tools collected by Harvey Fite is open to the public.
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Copyright © 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 & 1999 by Richard Frisbie -- All rights reserved.