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Testimony ends in dispute over moving Frick family archives

Tuesday, July 10, 2001

By Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

For the past week, lawyers for the Helen Clay Frick Foundation have insisted that a plan to divide the Frick family archives between a New York City art library and the University of Pittsburgh is fair and reasonable.

Yesterday, attorney James B. Astrachan called the three legal agreements that divide the archives "a rewrite of Helen Clay Frick's will."

Astrachan represents Arabella Dane, a foundation trustee, and Martha Frick Symington Sanger, author of "Henry Clay Frick: An Intimate Portrait." The two women, who are sisters, believe their family's archives should remain in Pittsburgh.

The archives document the Frick family's life, the rise of industry, art collecting in the gilded age and the Victorian era. Some of the collection, which is stored in Clayton's car and carriage museum, is deteriorating because of mold and humidity.

In Helen Clay Frick's will, Astrachan argued, the Pittsburgh heiress ordered that all tangible, personal property kept at her Point Breeze estate at the time of her death must remain at Clayton forever.

Astrachan contends that the Frick family archives were among the property found at Clayton when the heiress died there at 96 in November 1984. The heiress also dictated that her family's Victorian home, set on 5.5 acres, become a house museum.

The agreements to divide the archives were signed in the spring of this year by foundation board members, Pitt and The Frick Collection, a Manhattan art museum that operates the Frick Art Reference Library. The Pennsylvania attorney general's office also signed the agreements.

Under the arrangement, Henry Clay Frick's business papers and materials related to Western Pennsylvania would become part of Pitt's Archives of Industrial Society.

The balance of the collection, which includes Helen Clay Frick's voluminous photograph collection, correspondence and art history research, would go to the Frick Art Reference Library.

Daniel Gallagher and E. David Margolis are lawyers for the foundation, which is made up of 11 Frick descendants.

During his closing argument, Margolis argued that another section of Helen Clay Frick's will trumps the language cited by Astrachan and gives executors the sole power to dispose of property.

He added that the agreements compel The Frick Collection to share copies of the archives with Pitt.

The collection will be accessible to scholars, Margolis said, adding that transferring the archives to New York will not mean that they "fall off the ends of the earth."

Lawrence Palmer, a lawyer for the state attorney general's office, said that the agreements keep a substantial portion of the archives in Pittsburgh.

The case wound up in Allegheny County Orphans' Court before Judge Lee Mazur because the foundation is a Pennsylvania charity. Helen Clay Frick's will is also at issue, and estates are handled in Orphans' Court.

Earlier in the day, Dane testified that the dispute has had devastating personal and financial consequences.

"On the one hand, I'm fighting for what my great-aunt wanted to do. I have been ostracized. It has not improved family relationships in my generation. It's been financially overwhelming," Dane testified.

Yesterday, Mazur gave attorneys 15 days to submit briefs and said he would rule afterward.

The judge also urged the parties to try again to settle their dispute.

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