With the opening of “Taking Woodstock,” just one of a barrage of projects commemorating the 40th anniversary of the festival that defined a generation (and has since transformed a town into a tourist stop and fueled an entire industry), we flashback to our own escapade there this summer and, particularly, an opus stamped 40 of another kind altogether.
Opus 40 is a sculptural maze sprawling over 6.5 acres against Overlook Mountain, an artistic marvel of bluestone and nature. Like Sam Rodia's Watts Towers in South L.A., Opus 40 is the work of a single man who worked alone, just his hands, found materials and a vision.
Harvey Fite was a self-taught sculptor who taught at local Bard College when he bought an abandoned quarry in 1938 for $250. The steely bluestone was long quarried from this region to pave the sidewalks of New York City.
A trip to restore the Mayan ruins in Honduras prompted Fite to begin piling the rubble on his own property into something. Thousands of tablets, bricks, chunks and chips were stacked and guided into terraces hugging pools, sky-high walls, and sweeping amphitheater sections. It was all meant to showcase his individual sculpture, including a nine-ton rock he found nearby. But the environment became the artwork. The result is sublime.
Fite gave it the name, figuring it would take four decades to complete. But he died three years short of that mark in 1976 when his lawn mower accidentally pushed over the ledge of a pit. Death by art. Why not?
We knew nothing of the place, and have since discovered that even friends who've spent long summers in the Hudson area haven't either. At the end of a dirt road between Woodstock and Saugerites, the property is open much of the time, operated as a nonprofit by Fites’ stepson and supported by visitors and members such as our pal Kermit Perlmutter. We visited Kermit and his new bride (and my dear pal) Janet Ozzard at their home nearby, just days after their fantastic wedding in next door Connecticut. And we're forever grateful to them for giving us a morning there.
Drive through Woodstock for the farmer’s market and ice cream if you must. But don’t die without experiencing Opus 40. Like the sound of Hendrix doing “Star Spangled Banner” four decades ago on a farm not far from Fite's place, the sight of Opus 40 will forever rock your world.
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