The Frick Art & Historical Center is open to the public thanks to the generosity of Helen Clay Frick, daughter of Henry Clay Frick. When the Frick family moved to New York in 1905, Helen remained attached to Clayton, her Pittsburgh home. Her long-time wish was for Clayton and the surrounding estate to be preserved and opened to the public after her death.
In 1970, Helen had The Frick Art Museum constructed to allow public enjoyment of her art collection. Miss Frick returned to Pittsburgh in 1981 and lived at Clayton until her death in 1984. Although Miss Frick had carefully maintained Clayton, complete restoration of the home prior to opening it as a house museum was a four-year project. Open to the public in 1990, Clayton now welcomes over 100,000 visitors a year and provides them with an intimate glimpse into the life of the Frick family a century ago.
The Center has continued to grow in the years following Clayton's opening. In 1994, The Café at The Frick opened, offering both award-winning cuisine and a panoramic view of the grounds. The Car and Carriage Museum, built in 1997, expanded the original Carriage Museum which housed the Frick family's vehicles. The Car and Carriage Museum presents not only the Frick family's personal collection of cars and carriages, but also interweaves the history of the automobile with that of western Pennsylvania's early auto enthusiasts and manufacturers. It also contains many vehicles from the collection of Pittsburgh industrialist G. Whitney Snyder.
Henry Clay Frick
Early days Industrialist and art collector Henry Clay Frick (1849-1919) was born in West Overton, Pennsylvania, a rural village settled by Mennonites forty miles southeast of Pittsburgh. His grandfather, Abraham Overholt, was the village patriarch. Henry's rise to prominence and prosperity began close to home, when as a young man, he realized the potential of local bituminous coal. At the age of 21, he borrowed money and formed a partnership, Frick & Co, with two cousins and a friend. The newly-formed business used beehive ovens to turn coal into coke, a fuel in great demand by the burgeoning steel industry in Pittsburgh.
Rising Industrialist Frick prospered at a time when heavy industries and private fortunes were growing to unprecedented sizes. By the late 1870s, Frick bought out his partners. The company, now known as H.C. Frick and Company, had nearly 1,000 employees, and
Frick was a millionaire by the time he was 30. His first recorded purchase of a painting, a wooded landscape by local artist George Hetzel, was made in February 1881. Frick also met his wife, Adelaide Howard Childs (1859-1931), in 1881, and they were married December 15 of that year. While staying in New York City on their wedding trip, the Fricks were guests at a luncheon hosted by Andrew Carnegie at the Windsor Hotel. It was then that the partnership between H.C. Frick and Company and Carnegie Steel was officially announced. The union of the two men insured their dominance over the Pittsburgh steel industry, and the eventual formation of United States Steel. In 1882, after returning to Pittsburgh, the Fricks bought Clayton, moving there early in 1883. Their son, Childs, was born in March, and two years later a daughter, Martha, was born but died in 1891. The Fricks' third child, Helen Clay Frick, was born in 1888. A fourth child, Henry Clay Frick, Jr. died shortly after birth in 1892.
The Frick Collection The Fricks raised their children at Clayton, leaving daughter Helen with fond memories of an idyllic childhood. However, by 1905, Henry Clay Frick's business, social, and artistic interests had shifted from Pittsburgh to New York. At first the family occupied a Vanderbilt mansion on Fifth Avenue. Then, in 1910 Frick purchased property at Fifth Avenue and 70th Street and began construction of the magnificent mansion now known as The Frick Collection. The residence was designed to accommodate his large art collection of growing international standing. The Frick residence was opened to the public as a museum in 1935.
Helen Clay Frick
Helen Clay Frick (1888-1984), was the third child of Henry Clay Frick and his wife, Adelaide Howard Childs. She grew up at Clayton and retained a fondness for her childhood home throughout her life. Although the family moved to New York in 1905, Helen requested that her debutante party be held in Pittsburgh - and so it was, in 1908.
Helen shared her father's interest in art. As a young woman she began assembling her own collection, increasing her acquisitions in the 1960s in preparation for the opening of The Frick Art Museum in 1970. Before her death, Helen made plans for the opening of Clayton as a house museum. The Frick Art & Historical Center is her legacy to her hometown. Part home, part museum, the Center provides fresh interpretations of the social history of 19th-century Pittsburgh and provocative exhibitions of fine and decorative art.