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Frick archives may be split between city and New York

Tuesday, March 06, 2001

By Patricia Lowry, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Under an agreement reached by the Pennsylvania attorney general's office and the Helen Clay Frick Foundation, portions of the Frick Family Archives could remain in Pittsburgh.

Henry Clay Frick and daughter, Helen Clay Frick, in a still photo from a home movie made between 1916 and1919.

The agreement, which must be approved by the Orphan's Court Division of Allegheny County Common Pleas Court, calls for Henry Clay Frick's business papers and other items of local interest to be housed in the University of Pittsburgh's Archives Service Center in Point Breeze, where Frick's Pittsburgh home, Clayton, is located.

Materials that relate to the Frick family, including photographs and motion pictures, will be transferred to the Frick Collection's Frick Art Reference Library in New York.

The disposition of the archives, now housed at the Frick Art & Historical Center in Point Breeze, has been at the center of a dispute among the descendants of Henry Clay Frick since November 1999, when trustees of the Helen Clay Frick Foundation voted 10-1 to move them to New York.

One of Henry Frick's great-granddaughters, however, said she would continue her legal battle to keep the entire Frick Family Archives in Western Pennsylvania.

The foundation's board is composed of 11 descendants of Henry and Adelaide Childs Frick. A great-granddaughter, Arabella Dane of Boston, was the only trustee to vote against the move originally and later filed an objection in Orphan's Court. She is supported by her sister, Martha Frick Symington Sanger, an adviser to the board but not a voting member.

"We're going to continue to pursue the wishes of Aunt Helen, who 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," Dane said.

Dane wasn't included in the settlement negotiations and was surprised to learn of the agreement.

"This settlement will allow a substantial portion of the archives, documenting the history of this region, to remain right here in Pennsylvania," Attorney General Mike Fisher said yesterday. "In addition, it will ensure the archives will be preserved for future generations to study."

The agreement also stipulates that the archival material will be processed and conserved by the Frick Collection's archivists. The foundation will provide $115,000 annually for up to seven years for the project. During that time, portions of the archives that relate to Western Pennsylvania will be transferred to Pitt.

But some of the material could go directly to Pitt for processing, said Rush Miller, director of Pitt's University Library System.

"That's one of those details we're going to begin a dialogue around and work on," he said. "One way will be to move some things there and some things to our archives and begin jointly. I think some of it probably will not go to New York first."

Eventually, no matter where it is housed physically, much of the material could be available online.

The archives comprise about 1,380 linear feet of materials, including items related to art purchases, philanthropy, real estate associated with Frick family homes in Pittsburgh, New York and Massachusetts, personal papers and correspondence. Some portions have never been cataloged and have been unavailable to scholars and the public.

Miller thinks the material will be almost evenly divided between Pittsburgh and New York. It hasn't been decided where items relating to Clayton would end up, but Miller said they probably would stay in Pittsburgh.

"If it's related to Pittsburgh, my assumption now is that it will ultimately reside in Pittsburgh."

As part of the agreement, the Helen Clay Frick Foundation will retain ownership of the Frick Family Archives, even after portions of the collection have been transferred to Pitt.

"I think they're protecting themselves and I really don't blame them for that," Miller said.

For scholars, it could mean that while access to the documents is unimpeded, decisions about what photographs and passages from documents can be reprinted ultimately may rest with the foundation.

Would an author who wants to quote, say, six paragraphs from a Frick archives document need permission from the foundation?

"It depends on each individual case and how large a portion you are quoting," Miller said. "That's a hedge, I know, but it's sort of variable."

In the beginning, all parties had argued against splitting the collection.

"The family agreed that the archives shouldn't be spilt," Dane said. "That was a consensus before we even embarked on any discussion."

Townsend Burden, secretary and trustee of the foundation, however, said, "We came in contact with more and more experts who said the archives were not joined together. Not all of it is relevant to both locations. Whether they're in one or two or three locations is immaterial as long as we make it available."

If part of the Frick archives does end up at Pitt, it will be associated with the university's Archives of Industrial Society, begun in 1963 and comprising 650 collections of historical records, personal papers, photographs and related resources documenting industry in Western Pennsylvania.

A hearing on the settlement agreement will be held March 15 in the Orphan's Court Division.

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