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Editorial: Frick fragmentation

Pittsburgh may be shortchanged by archives deal

Saturday, March 10, 2001

An agreement reached to have the Frick family archives split between Pittsburgh and New York demands close scrutiny to make sure it adequately protects the historical interests of this region.

That agreement, reached by the Pennsylvania attorney general's office and the Helen Clay Frick Foundation, comes up for approval by the Orphans' Court Division on Thursday.

Under the agreement, Henry Clay Frick's business papers and other items of local interest would be placed in the University of Pittsburgh's Archives Service Center in North Point Breeze. The archive is across Penn Avenue from the Frick Art & Historical Center, the complex of museums and historical buildings that includes Clayton, the Frick family home.

Material relating to the Frick family that includes photographs and motion pictures would be transferred to the Frick Collection's Frick Art Reference Library in New York.

But we continue to believe Pittsburgh is the rightful home of all material relating to the Frick family, whether those items concern Mr. Frick and the steel industry, or more personal aspects of the Frick family's life.

The key issue here is the original intent of the will of Helen Clay Frick, the industrialist's daughter, who died in 1984.

Arabella Dane of Boston, a Frick great-granddaughter, says the late Miss Frick stated in her will that "all of her tangibles" were to be kept at Clayton to support the concept of a house museum to depict the life and times of Henry Clay Frick.

Ms. Dane plans to fight the agreement next week at the hearing. We support her belief that the archives - the complete collection - be left here in Pittsburgh.

Ms. Dane was the only trustee to vote against the original move, and she later filed an objection in Orphans' Court. She is supported in her efforts by her sister, Martha Frick Symington Sanger, an adviser to the board, but not a voting member.

Another reason we believe the material ought to be kept intact in Pittsburgh is that the business, civic and home lives of the Fricks were deeply intertwined. A fair number of the materials destined for New York could reasonably be argued to relate to Pittsburgh as well - and thus should remain here.

But who's going to make the decision in such cases? What guidelines are in place for making those decisions?

A spokeman for the two sisters says that right now, it is the Frick Collection in New York that would retain the right to make those decisions - and that the agreement does not call for any involvement by anyone here in southwestern Pennsylvania.

The attorney general's office says the University of Pittsburgh also will be heavily involved in making that decision - a point disputed by the sisters. The lack of clarity on this issue itself bears close examination by the court.

The archives recount the rise of an entire industry, as well as the history and contributions of one of our region's foremost families. Our city should be the place to which scholars and others come when they wish to learn about that industry and one of its most significant families.

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