A Magnum Opus

Opus 40

Opus 40 was constructed completely by hand, using blasting powder and hand tools.

Another stop on my Hudson River Valley trip in 2004 was Opus 40, in Saugerties NY, near Woodstock. Technically I suppose you could argue this isn’t a “garden,” but I had read enough about it on the Internet while I was researching my trip that I was very intrigued and wanted to check it out.

I am directionally challenged at the best of times, and this was long before I become joined at the hip with my Garmin Nuvi GPS. I won’t bore you with how many times I got lost en route to this location, but my journey was capped off with discovering on my arrival that the weekday in question was one when the site is usually closed to the public. The powers that be, however, succumbed to my pleas since there was already a painting class working on site. I hastily paid my five dollars admission fee and started exploring, mouth wide open and D100 (no tripod) in hand.

Opus 40 is one of the most unusual created landscapes in the Eastern United States. Its creator, Harvey Fite (head of the Fine Arts Division at Bard College from its inception until his retirement in 1969), spent 37 years fashioning a series of ramps, steps, pools and terraces constructed from stone from a quarry on the site, capped with a nine-ton monolith. Opus 40 was built completely by hand, using only blasting powder and hand tools; no mortar or cement was used.

Opus 40

Changes in the light produce subtle shifts in the way the stone looks. Planting wells still contain a few trees and shrubs, although many have died. Here, the "garden" is almost purely hardscape with trees for a backdrop.

Some of the ramps have planting wells that contain trees, although a number of these ‘beds’ are now empty, the trees having failed to survive. Some of Fite’s sculptures surround the periphery of the site, although the central structure is by far the most powerfully affecting component of the site. The colors of the stone shift subtly as the light changes, and the effect is arresting.

Opus 40

The nine-ton monolith is the central feature of Opus 40.

Opus 40 is located in Saugerties, New York, near Woodstock. It is open on weekends and holiday Mondays. For directions, details on its hours and admission information, visit its website. If you’re going to be in the area, it’s worth a detour.

See the other Hudson River Valley posts:
Wave Hill
Stonecrop Gardens

Explore posts in the same categories: landscape, Travel

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7 Comments on “A Magnum Opus”

  1. gardeningasylum Says:

    Opus 40 looks like a definite must. The stone work reminds me a little of the Goldsworthy wall at Storm King.

    • Melissa Says:

      I wanted to get to Storm King on this trip but it was closed on the day that would have fit with the itinerary the best.

      Andy Goldsworthy did an installation at the National Gallery’s East Wing several years ago that does have a similar feel to it in terms of the stone fitting together so seamlessly.

  2. Edith Hope Says:

    I am not quite sure what I feel about Opus 40 but it is certainly very different and its construction impressive.

    As it happens I have today written on my own blog about What Makes a Great Garden? I should love to hear your views.

    I came across you as a fellow new blogger on Blotanical.

    • Melissa Says:

      Thank you, Edith. I’ve put in a few thoughts on your blog and am glad you found this post. Look out for the upcoming one on Innisfree, a very non-European style garden in New York.

  3. fairegarden Says:

    Hi Melissa, what a fabulous place, I am so glad they let you in even though it was closed. To think there is no mortar is mind bending to say the least. I wonder about the trees dying in those wells. Perhaps something other than trees would be better, large grasses like Miscanthus possibly would be a nice contrast with its movement to the solidity of the stone. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

    • Melissa Says:

      I agree with you about grasses potentially being a good fit. But I think the foundation that keeps the place up and open doesn’t think about things like that. A great idea, though!

  4. Opus 40 is definitely a garden, albeit one without flowers and shrubs. It’s a beautiful construct which your photos show evokes different moods according to the changes in the light.

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