As Executive Director of Opus 40, Caroline Crumpacker is steward over one of the most significant earthwork sculptures in the country and a distinctly Hudson Valley landmark.
Sculptor and Bard professor Harvey Fite singlehandedly crafted Opus 40 over the course of 37 years, inspired by his time working with Mayan ruins in Honduras. It’s a staggering achievement — the sculpture is more of a labyrinth, covering over 6 acres with an interwoven series of platforms, pedestals, and stone ramps. Fite chose the name “Opus 40” because he believed it would take him 40 years to finish; tragically, he fell to his death while working on the sculpture in 1976, just 3 years short of his projected end date.
Long-time New Yorker writer Brendan Gill once wrote that Opus 40 is “one of the largest and most beguiling works of art on the entire continent.” The sculpture is part of the National Register of Historic Places, and in addition to being a museum and popular tourist destination, it plays host to numerous events and classes throughout the year.
Caroline Crumpacker was brought onboard in 2018 as Opus 40’s first-ever Executive Director, and under her leadership the site is becoming more open, accessible, and community-oriented than ever.
Hello! Who are you? Tell us about yourself. What are you passionate about? What do you enjoy doing?
Hello to you! Well, I am a Gemini, with Gemini rising. So that apparently makes me both creative and a bit skittish. I’ll let you be the judge.
I am a poet with a book (Belladonna*) and 3 chapbooks. I have been a poetry editor at Fence Magazine and am now a Collaborative member with Belladonna*. I am also an editor for Matters of Feminist Practice, a journal of feminist essays and ideas that is launching this Fall. I enjoy, or in fact love, all of that.
I also garden — passionately if also a bit haphazardly (Gemini) — and love to cook, especially when I am using my garden as inspiration. I have done a fair amount of political work, most recently on Antonio Delgado’s campaign (go Delgado!) Finally, I have a husband, daughter, canine, tortoise and some remarkable friends, all of whom mean the world to me.
How did you get involved with Opus 40?
I was told by friends at Bard that Opus 40 was going to be hiring a full-time Executive Director and I was immediately intrigued. I have always found that space remarkable… not only as an artistic tour de force and site of natural beauty and bounty, but as a performance space that insists on engagement. Theater, dance, music, poetry — all of it works with the space in the most remarkable ways. So… I began talking to the Opus 40 board of directors. It was a very long interview process and I think we all knew each other pretty well by the time I was hired.
I found out I had been hired when on the porch of an artists’ residency center in Massachusetts, by the ocean with a salty breeze in the air. It was a perfect moment.
Walk us through a typical day.
Well, one of the things I love about Opus 40 is that there truly is no one typical day or hour or moment. That space is a kaleidoscope of experiences.
On a quieter day, you might find me in my office working on a grant proposal or communicating with our Board.
Eileen Mcclatcy, our Director of Sales/Admissions might come in to talk over a new line for the Opus 40 store, which she manages. We tend to have the same basic idea of what makes the store resonate with who we are, so those talks are always fun.
Or Arick Manocha (our tour guide and Harvey Fite’s grandson) and I might discover a rare bug or a hummingbird (we have had some remarkable visitations this year) on our way to the sculpture to talk about his tours.
And then, as evening draws near, a band might arrive, like the amazing brass ensemble Hungry March Band or Roberto Juan Rodriguez and his Cuban Jewish Allstars… then it’s about getting them set up and welcoming a food truck and converting from pastoral art space to performance venue extraordinaire. Joe Brockett is our Events Coordinator and his arrival always means something exciting is going to happen.
Or it might be about me and Tim Gilmore, our wonderful Facilities Manager, walking around talking about work he’s doing.
Or maybe I am hearing Harvey Fite stories from writer and artist Tad Richards, his stepson, or eating one of Pat Richards’ amazing curry rolls (otherwise known as Pat’s delight!)
It is all part of what makes Opus 40 the place that it is.
What are some things that everyone should know about Opus 40?
Well, as Tim Gilmore says, everyone is blown away by the fact that Opus 40 was made by one person. And all from materials found on site.
If ever there were a message for our wasteful and somewhat lazy times, Opus 40 has that message. It celebrates the earth and its power to give and give, and it is a reminder of the power of human labor, honoring years of work in the quarries, even as it is a tour de force of individual artistic creation.
How did you discover the Hudson Valley?
I grew up in Nyack, and couldn’t wait to leave for New York City after high school. The Village and Brooklyn were my home for most of my adult life, with a few years in Paris and Provincetown. But when my daughter was born, and I was getting priced out of Brooklyn, I joined some friends in an exodus to this area.
I was nervous at first, especially during the long winters with a baby and lots of days spent entirely at home. But I figured out the rhythms of life here and now I love every bit of it.
Where are your favorite places to spend time in the Hudson Valley?
Well, yes, Opus 40.
The various farmers’ markets, my garden, my friends’ houses, the Spiegeltent…
Do you have a go-to coffee or beer order, and from where?
Where do you do your best creative work?
At home or at artists’ residencies.
How has the Hudson Valley influenced or impacted your creative work?
Well, I am not a city person any longer. That has changed everything about me. Gardening and being outside much of the time has completely changed my center of gravity and even my politics. Creatively, I respond differently to the world around me through my contact with nature.
What’s surprised you most about living and working in the Hudson Valley?
That I am so engaged. Being a New York City person for so long, I developed that odd snobbery… I thought I would be bored and isolated anywhere BUT one of the world’s great cities. On my vacations, I used to visit Paris or San Francisco… I was almost never in a rural area. And yet, here I am… absolutely not bored or isolated. I have dear friends, important causes and things to do… right here.
Are you part of any local groups or communities you’d like to mention?
Anything you want to plug or promote?
There are so many remarkable farms and purveyors in the Hudson Valley. Thompson-Finch, Hawthorne Valley, Ironwood Farm are all amazing places that are worth knowing as models of sustainable farming by very cool people. Soul Fire Farm is near enough to deserve a shout-out (dedicated to ending racism and injustice in the food system). Kite’s Nest in Hudson is a brilliant educational model/hub.
Some of the local libraries (Hudson and Newburgh, for example) are remarkable generative hubs of community and ideas. Fence Magazine is based in Hudson, I highly recommend checking them out.
The Flow Chart Foundation in Hudson. WDST and WGXC are seriously great local radio stations. Kingston has the Center for Creative Education. And, finally: Woodstock School of Art. Maverick Concerts. Unison Arts. Women’s Studio Workshop. Upstate Films. Bard Summerscape. Time & Space Limited. The Lumberyard. Rock on!This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Published on October 10, 2019