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Some loss of photos disclosed in Frick archives

Tuesday, July 03, 2001

By Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Of the 4,500 photo negatives in the Frick family archives, nearly 100 have had to be destroyed because they were stored improperly and fused together, a conservationist testified yesterday.

Don Swanson, chief conservationist of the Frick Art Reference Library in New York City, said the remainder of the nitrate negatives, which are part of the Frick family archives, had been stabilized and would be conserved.

Swanson was the third witness called by lawyers for the Helen Clay Frick Foundation, which is made up solely of Frick descendants.

In 1999, the foundation voted 10-1 to move the family archives to The Frick Collection in New York, a museum that also operates the Frick Art Reference Library.

The archives document the rise of industry and labor, Victorian life, Henry Clay Frick's art collecting and business dealings as well as the correspondence of Helen Clay Frick, who founded two art museums, two art libraries and two house museums.

Arabella Dane, a foundation trustee, and Martha Frick Symington Sanger, author of the 1998 book, "Henry Clay Frick: An Intimate Portrait," oppose moving the archives to New York.

Dane and Sanger, who are grandnieces of Helen Clay Frick, believe their great aunt's will states that all of the tangible personal property at her Point Breeze estate when she died should remain there. Frick's estate, Clayton, opened as a historic house museum in 1990.

The archives, which are stored at Clayton's Car and Carriage museum, are in immediate need of conservation, Swanson testified. In a slide show Swanson prepared, courtroom spectators got a virtual tour of the archives.

Swanson noted that mold had started to form on some of the archives in the late 1990s, and by last year, it was beginning to eat away at leather-bound photo scrapbooks, books and travel journals. A photograph of Theodore Roosevelt, who dined with the Frick family at Clayton, is curling. Mementos of the former president's visit also need to be saved.

The archives are stored in an air-conditioned room but the ventilation system does not filter out dust or pollution, which weaken fragile photos, scrapbooks and newspaper clippings, Swanson testified.

Access to the Frick family archives became an issue during the cross-examination of Rush G. Miller, chief librarian at Hillman Library and director of the University of Pittsburgh's library system. Miller, the second witness in the trial, appeared yesterday morning via videotape.

Miller insisted that members of the public will be able to see the Frick family archives. Last spring , Pitt and the Helen Clay Frick Foundation agreed to divide the archives between Pitt and the Frick Art Reference Library.

Under the agreement, the business papers of Henry Clay Frick and materials related to Western Pennsylvania would stay here while the rest of the collection would go to New York.

Albert G. Feczko Jr., a lawyer for Dane and Sanger, pointed to Pitt's archives policy and noted that only graduate students and researchers are allowed to use the school's archives.

"That's not our policy. Our practice is that anyone who walks in the door" can use the archives, Miller said.

Miller said Pitt would prefer to have the entire Frick family archive.

"In an ideal world, I would be glad to have them all," Miller testified, adding that the school has plenty of space for the collection.

"But you compromised to get half?" Feczko pressed.

"I don't view it that way," Miller replied.

During his cross-examination of Miller, Feczko hammered home the point that Pitt has been making efforts to reunite local archival collections instead of dividing them, as it has agreed to with the Frick collection.

During Feczko's questioning, Miller testified that Dennis East, Pitt's chief archivist, has spent the last two years trying to reunite archival collections split between Pitt and the library at the Heinz History Center.

Pitt does not have a complete set of the Urban League of Pittsburgh's records, Miller said, because, "In the early '80s, the Heinz History Center got them to agree to be the future repository of all Urban League records."

"The History Center approached that organization and a number of collections became split at that same time," Miller said.

Pitt, Miller testified, has "not made any progress whatsoever" in reuniting the Urban League papers or the collection of the National Council of Jewish Women. Miller did not explain why those efforts have been unsuccessful.

"Essentially, we didn't see any good reason for them to be split," Miller testified. "Our primary motivation has to do with practicality. It costs money to house archives. We frankly are kind of disgusted that this happened and we'd like to be rid of all of them."

In general, Miller said, archivists try whenever possible to keep archival collections together so that researchers can understand the history of documents, photos and mementos, such as "where it started, who's had it, who's owned it, how it got to you. It has to do with maintaining the integrity of the documents."

Andrew Masich, president and chief executive officer of the Heinz History Center, said Pitt recently gave the Rauh Jewish Archives, a collection of papers from the family of Richard S. Rauh, who helped create the Pittsburgh Playhouse, to the history center.

The Heinz History Center has a Jewish Archives Project.

Masich said he was unaware of archival collections that had been split.

"I hadn't heard anything about unifying or reuniting any collections," Masich said.



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