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Frick archive may be divided

Judge OKs placement at Pitt, library in N.Y.

Thursday, October 11, 2001

By Marylynne Pitz, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Letters, photos, films and Victorian mementos of Pittsburgh industrialist Henry Clay Frick and his family can be divided between the University of Pittsburgh and the Frick Art Reference Library in New York, a judge has ruled.

The decision by Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge Lee Mazur is a victory for the Helen Clay Frick Foundation, which initially tried to move the entire archive to Manhattan.

The archive is above the Car and Carriage Museum at Clayton, the family's Point Breeze home, now known as the Frick Art & Historical Center.

After a court battle, lawyers for the foundation, the state attorney general and Pitt agreed to divide the collection so that material related to Western Pennsylvania would remain here.

Two grandnieces of Helen Clay Frick opposed dividing the archive and insisted that all of the material remain here. Arabella Dane, a trustee of the Helen Clay Frick Foundation, and her sister, Martha Frick Symington Sanger, author of "Henry Clay Frick: An Intimate Portrait," sued to stop the transfer of archive material to New York.

Ed Weidlein, a former board member of the Frick Art & Historical Center, also opposed the move.

In an opinion filed Tuesday, Mazur ruled that the agreement is "a fair and reasonable way of preserving the archives, protecting the interests of the citizens of Western Pennsylvania" and making them accessible to scholars and the public.

"The university is gratified that it will be receiving a very important collection of research material," said Alan A. Garfinkel, Pitt's general counsel.

"Our library system plans to collaborate with The Frick Collection in New York and digitize the archives so that they will be available to scholars all over the world," Garfinkel said.

James B. Astrachan, a lawyer for Dane, Weidlein and Sanger, said his clients were considering whether to appeal.

"They're very disappointed. They spent a lot of money, and the judge is basically telling them they don't have standing."

Rush Miller, director of Pitt's libraries, said the collaboration would entail sending a Pitt archivist to New York for six months or a year.

"I don't know that all the conservation work would go on [in New York]. We have pretty comparable preservation facilities. We do a lot of preservation work with photography and documents," he said.

I. Townsend Burden III, secretary of the Helen Clay Frick Foundation, said the charity spent a "really significant" amount of money fighting the court battle.

"It's been such a waste of time," Burden said, adding that the primary goal should be to preserve the archive.

Sanger called the decision "a shame."

Dane and Sanger claimed that Helen Clay Frick's will dictated that all of the personal property stored at Clayton at the time of her death should remain there forever.

The judge rejected that argument, saying that the archive passed to the foundation through a different clause in her will.

Sanger said she tried to defend Helen Clay Frick's will.

"We did our best. I felt the honorable thing to do was to stand up for my great aunt and to help Arabella. We did the best we could. There was nothing in it for us. It cost us a fortune. I at least can say to myself we tried for our great aunt."

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