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Keep Frick archives here, experts say

Saturday, July 07, 2001

By Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

The great-granddaughter of Henry Clay Frick testified along with two university professors this week that dividing the Frick family archives would destroy their integrity and value.

While conducting research for her 1998 book, "Henry Clay Frick: An Intimate Portrait," Martha Frick Symington Sanger said, she read her great-grandfather's business correspondence and letters he wrote to his gravely ill 6-year-old daughter, Martha, who died in 1891.

"You get the whole picture and it's all in context," Sanger testified, adding that original documents are preferable to copies because "the integrity is in the original because it's the original."

Sanger and her sister, Arabella Dane, a trustee of the Helen Clay Frick Foundation, oppose a plan by 10 Frick family members to divide the archives between the University of Pittsburgh and the Frick Art Reference Library in New York City. The foundation and Pitt signed an agreement to facilitate the transfer earlier this year.

Sanger and Dane claim the plan violates the will of Helen Clay Frick, their great-aunt.

The testimony was part of a continuing hearing into the dispute.

During cross-examination, Donna Doblick, attorney for the foundation, tried to discredit Sanger by raising concerns about her conduct while she conducted her research.

Richard Cox, an archivist and professor in Pitt's School of Library and Information Science, appeared as an expert witness for Sanger and Dane.

The Frick family archives, Cox said, are a remarkably complete record of the life of a prominent Pittsburgh family. The collection is stored in the Car and Carriage Museum at Clayton, the Victorian estate in Point Breeze that became a museum in 1990.

Calling the archives "the corporate memory of Clayton," Cox testified that, "Many historic sites wish they had this level of documentation. If you start dividing up documents in an arbitrary way, you undermine the value of these documents."

Kenneth Warren, author of a book on Henry Clay Frick, was adamant that the papers remain in Western Pennsylvania because Frick made his fortune here and remained active in Pittsburgh until the end of his life.

Warren called the archives "literally priceless. They are an irreplaceable resource for business historians. They have got to be treated with great care and also ought to be accessible to researchers."

The hearing resumes Monday.

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