Opus 40 History

Late 19th Century - Present

Before Harvey Fite, Bluestone Quarry Used for Flagging and House Trimmings, 19th Century

Before Harvey Fite, Bluestone Quarry Used For Flagging And House Trimmings
Production on the commercial project known as bluestone begins. The land, which starts on the western side of the Hudson River and stretches southward through Greene, Ulster, Sullivan, Delaware and Broome counties, is deemed unsuitable for flagging and house trimmings. In order to make the property more viable, workers utilize sandstone compaction techniques and attempt to even out the quarry bed. Bluestone quarries in the Hudson River Valley are small local enterprises. Workers mine bluestone with..Read More
1903
1903

Harvey Fite Is Born

Harvey Fite is born on December 25, 1903 in Pittsburgh, PA. Shortly after his birth, his family moves to Texas, where they spend the remainder of his childhood. As a young man, Fite attends weekly evening courses in law. He continues his studies for three years before deciding against a career in the field. The decision ultimately causes him to move east to study ministry at the small Episcopal institution, St. Stephen’s College. It is..Read More
1930
1930

Harvey Fite Comes to Woodstock, joins Maverick Theater Company

Maverick Concerts
Harvey Fite comes to Woodstock, NY and becomes a member of the important regional theater, the Maverick Theater Company. He later joins the Jitney Players, a touring company based in Baltimore, and eventually the Bulgakov Russian Theater in New York. Though passionate about performing, Fite spends time whittling backstage and soon discovers his love for creating art with his hands. This discovery causes him to leave the theater and move to a farm in New..Read More
1933
1933

Harvey Fite Founds Fine Arts Department at Bard College

Fite and friends sitting in front of a building at Bard College
After a somewhat successful career as an actor, Harvey Fite joins Bard College and helps found its fine arts department. Initially, Fite teaches drama, but he soon becomes Bard’s professor of sculpture.
1938
1938

Harvey Fite Purchases the Opus 40 Property

Young Harvey lounging on deck.
Harvey Fite purchases an abandoned bluestone quarry in the town of Saugerties, NY from Rosalie Carlson. The twelve-acre parcel is full of raw materials that Fite will use for his Opus 40 sculpture, as well as his studio and what will become later known as the Fite House.    
1939
1939

Harvey Fite Joins Archaeological Team Restoring Mayan Ruins in Copan

Harvey Fite restoring Mayan Ruins at Copan
.In 1939, Fite receives an invitation from the Carnegie Institute to do restoration work on an ancient Mayan sculpture in Copan, Honduras. He is deeply impressed by the art of the Maya peoples and their extensive knowledge of raw materials. In the following year, Fite begins clearing away the rubble found in his former quarry. This allows him to start construction on what will become known as Opus 40, as well as make use of..Read More
1940
1940

Harvey Fite Works on The Bather Statue

Harvey Fite, The Bather
While teaching at Bard College, Harvey Fite begins work on The Bather, shown at Opus 40. He initially starts carving the statue in the sculpture studio at the school, but finishes it in his High Woods studio. This is possibly due to beginning work on the statue before construction on the house studio was completed. 
1940

Harvey Fite Learns Dry Keystone Masonry

Harvey Fite in the quarry at Opus 40
Harvey Fite begins teaching himself dry keystone masonry, a building method that involves laying stone without mortar. He does this by trial and “lots of error.”
1943
1943

Harvey Fite Meets Future Wife Barbara Fairbanks Richards

Barbara and Harvey Fite at Opus 40
Harvey Fite meets Barbara Fairbanks Richards, a model and an actress. She is the daughter of painter Frank Perley Fairbanks, and mother to Jonathan and James “Tad” Richards.  
1944
1944

Harvey Fite Sculpts Flame Statue

the sculpture entitled Flame in Fite's studio
Harvey Fite begins construction on his humanism-themed, outdoor sculpture gallery of bluestone statues. The first in the series is entitled Flame, and it’s carved in his at-home studio. It’s intended, he says, “to discuss civilizations. The bottom is Greek fluting, the pelvis is Oriental, the torso Renaissance, and the head and raised arms are totally abstract, going off into flame shapes so that the whole was meant to show a composite of cultures as they..Read More
1944

Harvey Fite Marries Barbara Fairbanks Richards

Barbara Fairbanks Joins Harvey Fite at Opus 40
Harvey Fite marries Barbara Fairbanks Richards at St Dunstan’s Church. The couple move into the Fite House with Barbara’s two young boys, Johnathan and James (Tad) Richards.
1944

Harvey Fite, Sculptor, Quarryman, Professor

Harvey with boom
From 1944 to 1948, Harvey Fite continues to sculpt in the living room of the Fite House. He does this while teaching at Bard and working the quarry each summer. The room in which he worked is now called the Barbara Fite room.
1950
1950

Harvey Fite Solo Sculpture Shows in Paris and Rome

Harvey Fite in New York Times International Edition 1950
Harvey Fite’s solo show is on display at Galleria dell’Obelisco in Rome. After seeing the sculptures, Attilio Selva and Andrea Spadini, two of Italy’s foremost 20th-century sculptors, give their praise: “From the sculptures of Harvey Fite which I have seen, all have given me the impression that the sculptor has not only avoided facile and exterior effects,  but he shows a method of work which should be unconditionally appreciated. Throughout the works which he has..Read More
1952
1952

Harvey Fite Serves as Delegate to International Conference of Artists

Harvey Fite Serves as Delegate to International Conference of Artists
In September of 1952, Harvey Fite serves as a delegate for the first International Conference of Artists sponsored by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization under the presidency of the Italian composer, Ildebrando Pizzetti. Over the course of seven days in Vence, Italy, some 300 artists and representatives from around the world gather to discuss the challenges of creating art in an increasingly technical era. 44 nations are represented at the conference that..Read More
1955
1955

Harvey Fite Tours Asia to Study Sculpture

Fite looking at sculpture in Cambodia
Pictured: Harvey Fite in Cambodia.
1959
1959

Outdoor Sculpture Gallery Nearly Complete

Harvey outside Opus 40
By 1959, the overall shape of Harvey Fite’s Opus 40 has come into being. It frames the majestic Overlook Mountain, near Woodstock, NY. Fite is pleased with the progress of the sculpture but concludes that something epic must be displayed at its epicenter.
1960
1960

Harvey Fite Builds New Studio in the Woods

Small white cabin in the woods, used as a studio
Harvey Fite builds a new studio woods. The sunny space is 600 feet away from the house and allows Fite to convert his former studio into a living room.
1963
1963

Harvey Fite Installs Opus 40s Iconic Monolith

Opus 40 under construction
Harvey Fite transports a boulder from a nearby streambed in order to begin work on the centerpiece for his 6.5-acre bluestone sculpture. The work is presented to his master’s thesis advisor, Ralph Moseley, at Hunter College. Moseley sings his praise: “Once it had been transported to the spot, Fite tried to visualize what final effect it might have by constructing a small bamboo and cardboard scale model of it. The stone itself is fourteen feet..Read More
1976
1976

Harvey Fite Dies Working on Opus 40

Harvey Fite at Opus 40
Harvey Fite dies while working on Opus 40. His New York Times obituary (May 11, 1976) reads: “Harvey Fite, a sculptor, died yesterday after a fall into a quarry he had been converting into a sprawling sculpture garden He was 72 years old. Mr. Fite had been riding a power lawnmower and fell into the quarry from a 12-foot precipice on his property, the police said. Mr. Fite, who retired from Bard College in 1969, after..Read More
1978
1978

Barbara Fairbanks Fite Founds Opus 40, Inc.

Barbara and Harvey Fite
Barbara Fairbanks Fite, the wife of Harvey Fite and a close collaborator throughout his labors, founds Opus 40, Incorporated as a 501 (c)3 nonprofit. She lovingly administers Opus 40, Inc. in her husband’s honor until her own death in 1987.
1980
1980

Richie Havens Delivers Opus 40s First-Ever Large Public Performance

Richie Havens
Richie Havens, a rock great known for his riveting impromptu performance of “Freedom” at Woodstock in 1969, plays at Opus 40’s first large public event. During his set, a bolt of lightning crashes a mere 40 feet away from the stage. Havens will later recall the natural occurrence with excitement, stating that he “didn’t move, I just stayed there. People thought I was nuts.” In the same interview, he explains the beauty of Opus 40,..Read More
1984
1984

Orleans Labor Day Weekend Concerts

Orleans Labor Day Weekend Concerts
For nearly 20 years, Orleans performs every Labor Day at Opus 40. The American pop-rock band, best known for its hit “Dance with Me,” draws over 1,200 attendees to each event.
1986
1986

Sonny Rollins Breaks His Heel and Keeps Playing

Sonny Rollins Breaks His Heel and Keeps Playing
Jazz legend Sonny Rollins and his ensemble perform at Opus 40. Rollins chooses the site because he feels Fite’s monument embodies Saxophone Colossus — his nickname and the title of his seminal 1956 album — and because it provides a unique backdrop for an open-air jazz concert. The concert will be remembered (by VICE and others) not only for the world premiere of the single “G-Man,” but also for Rollins’ dramatic fall. Rollins will later..Read More
1987
1987

Tad Richards and Pat Lead Opus 40, Inc.

Tad Richards and Pat Lead Opus 40, Inc.
After the passing of Barbara Fite, her son James “Tad” Richards and his wife Pat take leadership at Opus 40, Incorporated. They serve in this capacity for more than three decades, stewarding the organization through many changes, while also annotating and preserving the legacy of Harvey Fite. Tad Richards’ artistic contributions to Opus 40 include remarkable jazz concerts with Sonny Rollins, community music jams, Labor Day concerts with the Orleans, and much more. He has..Read More
1987

Barbara Fairbanks Fite Dies

Opus 40
Barbara Fairbanks Fite passes away, leaving behind her a remarkable vision. The nonprofit organization, Opus 40, Inc., preserves the masterwork of her husband and is host to a remarkable range of programming and entertainment. Today, the main room at Fite House is called The Barbara Fite Room. It honors her extraordinary contribution to the preservation of our site and the cultural landscape of the Hudson Valley.
1996
1996

Harvey Fite Bust Installed at Bard College

Harvey Fite at Bard
Opus 40 creator Harvey Fite, a Bard College professor and the founder of the college’s Fine Arts Department, is honored for his remarkable contributions to both local culture and Bard College with a marble self-portrait bust. The piece is installed in Bard’s Charles P. Stevenson Jr. Library. It is given as a gift from Fite’s stepson Jonathan Richards and his wife Claudia Jessup. It remains in this place today. Pictured: Harvey Fite discusses a student’s..Read More
2001
2001

Opus 40 Placed on National Historic Register

Opus 40
Opus 40 is added to the National Register of Historic Places — the United States federal government’s official list of districts, sites, buildings, structures and objects deemed worthy of preservation for their historical significance. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America’s historic and archeological..Read More
2006
2006

Opus 40 Featured by The New York Times

Opus 40 Featured by The New York Times
June 2nd, 2006. The New York Times publishes an extensive article on Opus 40, stating, “In a culture of disposability that celebrates slackers, Opus 40 not only constitutes what Brendan Gill described in Architectural Digest in March 1989 as one of ‘the most beguiling works of art on the entire continent,’ but stands as a monument to discipline and hard work. Harvey Fite, a self-taught sculptor who was born in 1903 and died in 1976,..Read More
2016
2016

Garden Party with Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley

Garden Party with Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley
Many of the Hudson Valley’s most generous philanthropists, business, and community leaders gather at Opus 40 for the annual garden party of the Community Foundations of the Hudson Valley. The event honors Sue Hartshorn of Dutchess County, Gloria Turk and her son Steve and his wife Shelley of Ulster County for their extraordinary commitments to philanthropy and community service in the region. Steve Turk goes on to join the Opus 40 Board of Directors. Today’s..Read More
2019
2019

Opus 40 and WDST Radio Woodstock Launch Sunset Sessions Concert Series

Opus 40 Member Event
Opus 40 and Radio Woodstock begin collaborating on musical events in the 1980s. In 2019, the two organizations renew their partnership with the launch of a concert series at Opus 40. The weekly Friday events draw crowds of 300-plus music lovers to see performers such as Scruffy Pearls, Royal Khaoz and Braskill. While the concerts will pause in 2020, due to restrictions around Covid-19, the series resumes in 2021 with a dazzling series of live..Read More
2020
2020

Opus 40 Rises to an Unprecedented Year of Challenges

Marching band playing on the Opus 40 monument
All over the world, Covid-19 forces venues to close or limit operations for months or longer, forcing many to close and many more to furlough staff and cancel programs indefinitely. Opus 40 is able not only to stay open but to develop programs that allow our audiences to escape the stress of quarantine, either virtually or in safe, socially distanced outdoor programs. We open with rigorous safety protocols around Covid-19 in June 2020, allowing visitors..Read More