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Hearing set on Frick archive dispute

Sessions scheduled June 28-29, July 2-3

Wednesday, May 30, 2001

By Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Descendants of Pittsburgh heiress Helen Clay Frick appeared in Orphans' Court yesterday in a fruitless effort to settle a dispute over where the family will preserve and store its valuable archives.

After four hours of negotiations, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lee Mazur set June 28-29 and July 2-3 for a hearing in the case.

The archives are a full record of the lives of industrialist Henry Clay Frick and his daughter, an art collector and philanthropist. The archives document the rise of industry, Victorian life, gilded age art and decoration in the 20th century.

Stored in the carriage house at Clayton, the Frick family estate in Point Breeze, the archives include Helen Clay Frick's correspondence, diaries, travel journals, records of five companies operated by Henry Clay Frick, family letters and receipts for many art purchases.

In an attempt to resolve 16 months of litigation, Mazur met in his chambers with members of the Helen Clay Frick Foundation board, 10 of whom voted in 1999 to move the archives to the Frick Art Reference Library in New York City. The foundation board is made up of a maximum of 11 Frick family members.

The judge also met with lawyers for two of Helen Clay Frick's grandnieces who oppose transferring the archives to New York.

Arabella Dane, a Boston horticulturist, and Martha Frick Symington Sanger, a Maryland author, believe their great aunt wanted the archives to remain in Pittsburgh and cite her will as evidence.

Dane is a voting member of the Helen Clay Frick Foundation board. Sanger researched the family archives for 10 years for her book "Henry Clay Frick: An Intimate Portrait," published in October 1998 by Abbeville Press.

"We really got nowhere with them. We're committed. We'll see them in court," Sanger said yesterday afternoon.

Dane and Sanger believe their great aunt wanted the archives to remain part of Clayton, which opened as a house museum in 1990. The two women claim their great aunt's will makes it clear that all property found on her estate at the time of her death should remain there.

E. David Margolis, a lawyer for the foundation board, said yesterday that the archives came from various places, including Helen Clay Frick's farm in Westchester County, N.Y., and the basement of the Frick Building, Downtown.

Last year, Mazur ordered that 4,500 photographs and home movies from the archives be sent to the Frick Art Reference Library so they could be preserved, then returned to Pittsburgh.

Adelaide Trafton, chairman of the Helen Clay Frick Foundation board, said the lawsuit has drained money from the foundation.

Court records show that the family foundation's assets were $26.7 million as of September 1999. The Frick Art and Historical Center, which operates Clayton, had $75.6 million in assets as of September 1999.

"My great aunt would have hated the publicity that's going on with this lawsuit," Trafton said.

In April, Trafton signed an agreement that divides the archives between the Frick Art Reference Library and the University of Pittsburgh archives of industrial society, housed a few blocks from Clayton in Point Breeze.

Dane was unaware that foundation members were signing the agreement and opposes it, as does Sanger.

"It was done in secret. It was done behind our backs. It wasn't any sort of a compromise because it was done behind our back," Sanger said.

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