SAUGERTIES, NY – The 6.5-acre blue stone labyrinth rising from a quarry here is one of the wonders of the Hudson Valley, a show of artistic strength by a self-taught sculptor who spent more than half his life creating it with thousands of rocks. , endless patience and no cement.
Work 40Its name is a monument to the high-end of hard work and dedication that took the bulk of 37 years to build, evoking the perseverance of its creator, Harvey Fite.
But now some say that heartbreaking victory has been tainted by the mundane: a nearly 400-foot-tall chain-link fence that encircles one of its sides, spoiling its beauty, and the product of a long smoldering argument.
“One man built all this – it’s amazing,” said town building superintendent Alvah L. Weeks Jr.. “Sorry, this fence. Why couldn’t you figure something out?”
Those involved in the dispute include the Fite family, the nonprofit that operates Opus 40, and the neighbors that surround it. As the discussion is filled with unfounded theories and unwanted accusations, it turns into a fight about the house that Fite has built adjacent to her ingenious creation.
The home is still owned and operated by Fite’s 81-year-old stepson Tad Richards and his wife Pat, and their 20-year-old grandchild. rented onlineallowed guests to camp nearby and used it as a gathering place.
Neighbors complained about the events and Airbnb guests who they said were making noise until the wee hours of the morning. The small nonprofit that operates the site considers these activities a safety hazard and a legal liability.
Enter the fence the nonprofit planted in May to separate the genius Fite has from her home that Fite doesn’t have.
“The fence is over the top — it’s unpleasant,” said Gerald Pallor, 73, of Saugerties, a longtime friend of the Richards family. “There is definitely a better way to resolve disagreements than to come up with something like this.”
“Security is absolute – non-negotiable,” said Jonathan Becker, chairman of Opus 40 Inc., and the fence, no matter how ugly, is needed until a broader solution is found.
“Harvey Fite spent nearly 40 years making this statue, and this temporary fence won’t be a moment in history,” Becker said.
Working in the quiet of the quarry, it’s hard to imagine how Fite built something like this. Compared to North American Stonehengewould now react to the clamor that surrounded him.
Angry neighbors filed a noise petition and complained repeatedly. town board meetings About activities at home. His family members collected a wealth of documents labeled “Opusgate” to record what they saw as ill-treatment at the hands of various parties. Their supporters are Facebook group and one started change.org petition asking for the fence to be removed.
In a recent flare-up, neighbor Steven Dunning called the police just after 3 a.m. to report that there was loud music and a party at Fite House, according to police records. About 12 hours later, Richardses’ grandson, Arick Manocha, called the police to report his wife, Dunning, who works on Opus 40, for breaking into the property and yelling at the occupant.
“I’m at the end of my rope” Dunning told authorities at a recent town meeting.
The quarry that became the site of Opus 40 was purchased by Fite in 1938 while he was teaching at nearby Bard College. A year later, he finished building the house there when Fite, who was originally a drama instructor, moved on to become a sculpture teacher.
After a trip to Honduras in 1939 to help restore Mayan ruins, Fite began teaching herself how to finely assemble stones without mortar or cement. Each summer, regardless of his teaching responsibilities, he worked on the sprawling rock formation. In 1963, Fite added one of the finishing touches: a nine-ton boulder he would use as the centerpiece, a 15-foot-tall monolith that shot up triumphantly into the air. Opus 40 was closed with an exclamation point, as some have noted.
Fite died while working on Opus 40 in 1976. New York Times.) He said it would take 40 years to complete the project and when he died, at the age of 72, 37 years later, he was fully equipped with ramps, stairs, pools, ditches and underground passages, all hand-carved. a stone placed with remarkable precision.
“He left some unfinished areas; but Opus 40 is more complete than ever,” wrote Tad Richards in “Opus 40: The First 20 Years.” “It was the product of Fite’s relentless vision and could only be stopped by his death.”
The artist’s wife, Barbara Fite, would go on to create the nonprofit Opus 40, Inc. to perpetuate her masterpiece and run it until a year before her death in 1987. His son, Tad, lived in the house on the property and led the nonprofit for years after his mother’s death.
In 2018, he relinquished control to the organization after the former head of the organization, Alan Siegel, announced it. Thompson Family Foundationexpressed interest in helping fund the nonprofit and buying the House of Fite to combine with the sculpture space that now belongs to the nonprofit. (An organization led by Richards couldn’t have bought Fite House from them without breaking the regulations regarding nonprofits.)
Siegel forced the organization to evolve from a family business to a professional nonprofit, thus establishing a new independent board of directors. But in March 2019, Siegel died unexpectedly before the house is bought. Without Siegel at his helm, the foundation he manages can no longer lead fundraising efforts, he said.
“Things started going downhill from there,” Tad Richards said.
The list of grievances by all parties continued to grow. Nonprofit officials say that when they took over the organization, they struggled to clean up the messy ledger the family left behind. They later realized that items such as wooden benches, statues and quarry tools were missing from Opus 40, and the nonprofit accused the Richards and their grandchildren of buying them and selling them to a local antique dealer in a letter. The nonprofit later changed the locks on the doors of the quarry master’s museum.
The Richards’s said they struggled financially and only sold items that belonged to them. They complained that the nonprofit didn’t properly deal with the grounds and allowed fences to “get crazy,” as Tad Richards put it.
According to court documents, there is an even more complex lawsuit brought by a local businessman who once made a deal with the Richardses’ grandson to buy the house for $580,000. As part of the settlement, businessman David Hanzl purchased a house near Kingston for the Richardses to live in, according to court documents, and Hanzl and Manocha were supposed to jointly manage Fite House as a short-term rental property. .
But the sale of Fite House never took place. The lawsuit accuses the Richards and their grandchildren of “snagging” Hanzl in a reckless plan to financially save the family, and says the Richards now live rent-free in the Kingston home where Hanzl bought them.
Tad Richards said in an interview that it stayed “high and dry” when Hanzl stopped buying Fite House.
Manocha said her grandparents’ intentions were always to “solve these issues” and buy the Kingston home after Fite House was sold.
In May, the situation began to escalate when the nonprofit formally announced in a letter to Richardses that the organization was severing ties with the home, after years of paying to use the family’s driveway as part of the entrance to the park and occasionally working with the family. in various programs. He also said that he would work on making a new entrance to the statue and put up a fence.
non-profit told There must be “an appropriate and binding safety, programming and management plan for the Fite House” before the fence is demolished. Becker, the nonprofit’s board of directors, emailed Tad Richards in July outlining more specific “common sense ideas for a deal framework,” such as camping bans, loud noise after 10 PM, and events with more than 12 people attending. sent. He insisted that an agreement could be reached “in an afternoon” if the parties involved devote some of their time spent posting on social media to work on creating a safety plan.
One solution could be for the nonprofit to buy the house; It’s an idea that’s been around for years, but that requires raising money for a down payment. Officials of the organization say they want this. Manocha said that because the nonprofit made it “impossible” to turn the property into a business, “our minds went into selling.”
Becker said in late July that he plans to meet with Tad Richards soon to negotiate a possible deal. And on Friday, Opus 40, the Richards family, and representatives of the town met to review the framework for a deal laid out by Becker.
Everyone agrees that the statue itself is in serious need of repair and that if they can rectify the differences between them, the focus could return to preserving Harvey Fite’s artistic masterpiece and personal legacy.
One afternoon recently, Tad Richards allowed herself a moment of optimism and reflection as she stood by the house where she grew up and stared at a piece of art that helped define her life. “It means more than I can say,” he said.
Sheelagh McNeill contributed to the research.