From the Executive Director features news and reflections on the work of PHMC by its chief administrator.

If you want to see examples of Pennsylvania’s collections in the future, you may be forced to travel to New York, Richmond – maybe even Las Vegas. At least three proposals to move valuable art, archives, and artifacts are prompting strong public reaction and litigation. None of these cases have been resolved at the time of this writing and the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission has taken an active role in encouraging that these treasures stay put.

The fate of The Dream Garden in Philadelphia is uncertain due to a decision by its owner to sell this exquis­ite mosaic to a private owner. The work of Louis Comfort Tiffany and Maxfield Parrish, the monumental mural – measuring forty-nine by fifteen feet – has been a fixture of the Curtis Building, near Independence Hall, since its installation in 1916. When the building’s owner announced her intention in 1998 to sell The Dream Garden to a Las Vegas casino operator, the Philadelphia Historical Commission designated the mural “historic” and ruled that she needed the commission’s approval for any action that might affect its status or condition.

The owner responded with a suit against the city, and the case became even more complicated when she died earlier this year. The four cultural institutions that were to benefit from the mural’s sale became the trustees of the owner’s estate. Although they do not want to remove The Dream Garden, these new trustees cannot act until the court agrees that they are, indeed, the rightful owners.

Another unique Philadelphia collection is the Civil War Library and Museum, a three-story townhouse on Pine Street overflowing with thousands of artifacts, books, and manuscripts donated since the 1880s by the families of Philadelphia area soldiers who fought to preserve the Union. The museum’s governing board recently agreed to enter into a “strategic alliance” with a proposed museum in Richmond, Virginia, and to transfer an unspecified number of artifacts for display at the new facility when it opens. State legislators from the city succeeded in securing the intervention of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General to seek a court review of this proposal and to determine whether the governing board had the authority to enter into this controversial transfer.

In Pittsburgh, a dispute among the descendants of Henry Clay Frick over the location of the family archives has also generated legal actions and the scrutiny of our attorney general. This archives of business records, family correspondence, photographs, and newspaper accounts reflects the activities and accomplishments of one of Pennsylvania’s most prominent industrialists and collectors of fine art. Frick’s daughter, Helen Clay Frick, established a foundation before her death in 1985 to administer the family’s home, Clayton, and all of her personal property. In 1999, the foundation trustees voted to transfer the archives from Pittsburgh to the renowned Frick Collection in New York. However, one trustee objected that the transfer violated Miss Frick’s will and sought the review of Allegheny County’s Orphans Court. Now it appears a compromise may result in dividing the collection between the University of Pittsburgh’s library and the New York institution.

Each of these cases will not only resolve immediate questions of owner­ship, but will also establish legal precedents for the future. Without question, we are in a critical period in which the custody and control of Pennsylvania’s patrimony is hotly contested terrain.

Brent D. Glass
Executive Director