Monday, March 24, 2014
Barbara Fairbanks comes to Opus 40
We may not know exactly what Harvey Fite's first thoughts were when he saw the abandoned quarry which was to become his life's work, but we do know Barbara Fite's first thoughts, because she told a friend, years later.
Barbara Fairbanks Richards, recently divorced and with two toddlers, had moved from Washington, DC to New York, where her mother lived, and then up to the small village of Woodstock, because (well, this was 1943) friends had told her it was a cheap place to live. She didn't know much about its reputation as an artists' colony, but her father had been a well-known artist, and she soon met some of the local arts community, including, at a couple of parties, Harvey Fite.
In a world of odd ducks, Harvey Fite was a particularly odd duck -- a self-taught sculptor, a Texas plainsman, part of the arts scene but separate from it, building something no one knew much about, in a wilderness of his own. He had lived on the Maverick, that center of Woodstock's creative community, but now he had separated himself from it, living some ten miles away in a time when roads were rough and flivvers were lucky to average 30 miles an hour-- if you had one. As Henry Morton Robinson wrote, "Some of the local artists cocked a supercilious eyebrow, others called him 'bluestone crazy.'" But for the beautiful young mother, with a background as a model and and actress in Rome, a debutante's life in Italy and New York, then marriage into the strait-laced formal world of the US diplomatic corps, there was an instant attraction. They crossed paths at a few parties in town, and one night he asked her to come see his place in the moonlight
Whatever else that invitation may have meant, it was certainly an invitation to see his place in the moonlight. This was 1943. The amount of work that had already been done was amazing; the rubble that surrounded it, the work that was still to be done, staggering.
As Barbara stood on the balcony of Harvey's beautiful but primitive house, still without such amenities as plumbing or electricity, the one thought that went through her mind was:
"There'll never be room in this man's life for me."
And I've always imagined Harvey standing next to her, saying to himself, "I'll never be able to get this beautiful, elegant woman to come and share my rough and ready life."
And also, perhaps, less romantically: "Two little boys? Running around here? No way."
But love, as it has a way of doing, conquered all. Barbara became not only the love of Harvey's life, but his aesthetic collaborator. They were to spend many more evenings, over the next 37 years, standing on that balcony, or sitting before the picture window, looking out on the work, as "month in and year out Harvey Fite continued to lift, cut, drag and chisel bluestone, until an enormous stage had been built against the backdrop of pines and mountains," and then as that stage became a sculptural work of unprecedented ambition and beauty.
It was love that inspired Opus 40: love of a man and a woman, love of art, love of humanity. And we have a chance, now, to give some love back, by donating to the cause of restoring the hurricane-damaged area. Please consider a donation to our IndieGoGo campaign. You can make it here.