During the early 1930s, Harvey Fite was moving away from his longtime dream of a career in the theater. But a passion still burned in him—as he wrote in his journals, “I must find a way to leave my footprint in the sands of time.”
He was moving inexorably toward sculpture. The epiphany had come to him when he was acting with a touring troupe called the Jitney Players, performing melodrama. While he was waiting backstage one night for his cue to go on, a wooden spool discarded by a seamstress rolled under his chair, and he picked it up.
Good Texas farm boy (and jack of all trades for the theater company) that he was, he usually carried a jackknife with him, and on this night, he unclasped it and began whittling the spool.
What he whittled that night is buried under the sands of time, as is that spool, but the impact it had on Fite, and on American art in the 20 th Century, was profound.
But like the hero that his friend Joseph Campbell wrote about in his seminal Hero With a Thousand Faces, Fite was at first hesitant about accepting the call. He tried painting, And he wrote. He had written plays in college; he tried some short stories now,
But soon Sculpture became his only muse, and he gave up writing, even in journals, until 1948, when he found himself drawn back to ink and paper again to create the character of a little boy who finds adventure and self-knowledge in the World of Stone, and through the spirits of the great stone-carving cultures.
He named the boy after his young stepson—me—but Tad is really Harvey Fite himself, a young sculptor in awe of the classic traditions of stone-carving. Harvey was then nearing the end of his first decade of work on Opus 40, the great earthwork project in stone that was to consume the rest of his life.
He looked briefly for a publisher, but he came to realize that the story was not quite developed, and he left to return to the stone in which he found his true voice, and in which he spoke so eloquently.
The Rocklins is a unique and invaluable look into Fite’s developing—and developed—philosophies of sculpture, including his love-hate relationship with the mastery of Michelangelo, his guarded optimism about the future of American art, and a vision of that footprint he hoped to leave in the sands of time, especially powerful now that carving in stone has become almost a lost art. Harvey Fite left his footprints, all right. But he left them in stone.
I’ve done some work with plot and continuity, and a little of the adult Tad has crept into the character of young Tad, but the story is Harvey’s.
Opus 40 is now in the middle of a fund drive to begin the crucially important work of restoring the hurricane-damaged portion of the sculpture. Please donate to this campaign -- click the link here.