Real Life Adventures: Opus 40

Real Life Adventures: Opus 40

by Michael Curtis

A menhir of bluestone rises towards the sky. Stone ramps wind their way up to the platform upon which it stands. Pits filled with water lie below it. Winding stairs of fitted stone rise and descend, almost enticingly, as if urging you to follow them to secret places. In the distance beyond all this, the mountains rise, ancient and silent, as if waiting for some event about to unfold…

Some months ago, when we were experiencing that first glorious time of plummeting COVID infections and a general return to somewhat ordinary life, I made a trip up to the Catskill Mountains region of New York State. As anyone who has read The Chained Coffin might suspect, I have a fondness for mountains of any sort and, after being stuck on the flatness of Long Island for over a year, I was ready to put some stone under my feet.

A sunny, warm Saturday morning saw me arrive at Opus 40 in Saugerties, NY. Opus 40 is a sculpture park and arts center located on the site of a former bluestone quarry about 100 miles north of New York City. It is largely the work of one man, Harvey Fite, who began his massive sculpture in 1939. It would consume 37 years of his years—and ultimately his life.

Fite was an artist who had worked in wood and stone. He purchased the abandoned quarry in 1937, acquiring 12 acres of natural materials to work with, all under the watchful gaze of the Catskill Mountains. That same year, he was invited to do restoration work on Mayan sculpture in Honduras. His experiences there would be responsible for his great work, his “Magnum Opus” upon his return to New York. Once home, he began clearing away the bluestone rubble from the old quarry and, perhaps without him even knowing it, started work on what would become the work he entitled Opus 40.

Opus 40 is a gigantic single sculpture that covers 6.5 acres. It is comprised of platforms, pedestals, ramps, stairs, passageways, pools, and an amphitheater, all made from native bluestone granite and held in place without the use of mortar or cement. The sculpture’s focal point is the monolith which stands at the end of the main ramp, a 9 ton, 13 feet tall finger of stone.

Fite worked constantly on his work, whose name he chose based on the 40 years he expected it would take him to complete the masterpiece. Unfortunately, Fite died in 1976 when he accidentally fell while working on his creation. Opus 40 was effectively finished with his death, and stands today as it did on that final morning. As you walk through the park, you’ll come across an unfinished wall and piles of bluestone left where Fite has stacked them, waiting to be added to the work.

Opus 40 is one of those works of art where words fail to describe it as it deserves. It must be explored firsthand to understand the immense devotion and work which was required to create it. A thousand years from now, Opus 40 may still be standing, no less a wonder than Stonehenge is today and inspiring the same sense of majesty and mystery. There is an air of antiquity about the location, despite it being less than 100 years old. As you stroll the paths around the sculpture, you come across open quarry pits littered with stone fragments and filled with water. Tools and equipment lie rusting in the open. Piles of stone, sorted by shape and size, are left as if waiting to be added to the work. You can’t shake the feeling that the workers just stepped away for a minute and the quarry will soon ring again with the sound of hammers on chisels and the crack of fragmenting stone.

Although work on Opus 40 has ended, the sculpture park remains vibrant. Concerts are held here regularly—although I, for one, wouldn’t want to be a performing trying to compete with the view of the Catskills rising in the distance. It’s a popular site for weddings as well; this will not surprise you after seeing it for yourself. Opus 40 has appeared in concert footage and music videos, most recently in Amanda Palmer’s rendition of Pink Floyd’s “Mother” (see the video here).

From a gaming perspective, a trip to Opus 40 is certain to inspire you to dream of adventures set in abandoned dwarven quarries or to envision lost, unexplained ruins waiting to be discovered in a dense forest. The platforms, ramps, and monolith all seem to scream “This is where the ritual happens” if you’re looking for ideas on where the final climatic battle with the sinister cult needs to occur. With the Catskills looming in the distance, I’m sure you’re already going to be thinking about the Shudder Mountains, and Opus 40 could be something that dates back to the construction of the Luhsaal Wheel—or as an alternate version of the Wheel, itself.

Regardless of what it might inspire, Opus 40 is worth a visit. Go on a day when the weather is nice, walk the paths around the sculpture itself, exploring the old quarry pits and equipment, then finish your visit in quiet contemplation of Harvey Fite’s great work. You’ll feel his dream lingering there and agree that it may keep inspiring dreamers long, long after we’re gone.

Be sure to experience our other adventures in reality in our Real Life Adventures series!

Author: billward

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