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New visitor center makes the Frick more welcoming

| Monday, July 14, 2014, 7:02 p.m.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
Work is still under way in the gift shop area of the new Frick Orientation Center on the grounds of the Frick Art & Historical Center in Point Breeze Monday July 14, 2014.
James Knox | Tribune-Review
The exterior of the new Frick Orientation Center on the grounds of the Frick Art & Historical Center in Point Breeze Monday July 14, 2014.

When architect Jon Traficonte arrived at the Frick Art & Historical Center for the first time, he wasn't quite sure where to go.

Like a lot of first time visitors, he couldn't see the entrance to the art museum and didn't know where to check in for a tour of Clayton or how to locate the Henry Clay Frick family's former home.

Many guests toured the house or museum without being aware of the Car and Carriage Museum, the Frick Cafe or the greenhouse on the property.

Those uncertainties should not be a problem for future visitors.

This weekend, the Frick is celebrating the opening of its new orientation center, the first phase of a three-part, $15 million expansion and renovation project designed to be a welcoming source of information for anyone visiting the 5.5-acre property in Point Breeze.

“The first challenge was creating an orientation center that was front and center so you could arrive and not need a road map,” says Traficonte, a principal at Schwartz/Silver Architects in Boston and the design principal for the new building.

Now, when visitors pull into the parking lot alongside the art museum, the orientation center will be hard to miss. Easily seen from the parking lot, the glass-walled, 3,000-square foot space immediately draws both eyes and interest.

Constructed with low-iron, high-transparency glass and Pennsylvania sandstone, the building's materials provide a visual connection to other buildings and the Frick's park-like setting of trees and gardens.

A 30-foot-long skylight in the ceiling provides natural lighting and the herringboned pattern in the tile floor is a nod to the intricate parquet patterns of the floors in Clayton.

But the center's primary function is as a one-stop resource center for visitors to any of the Frick's facilities.

Visitors can purchase or pick up tickets for tours of Clayton, learn about exhibits at the art museum and purchase items in the 1,500-square-foot shop. Convenient interactive electronic maps indicate where buildings are located and offer approximate walking times to reach them.

The 1,500-square-foot museum shop will nearly double the space and selection of available merchandise that was offered in the former shop in the Children's Playhouse. The new shop includes books about Pittsburgh, the Frick family and art; jewelry by local artists; and art supplies for children.

Belle & Wissell, a Seattle-based design firm that creates interactive electronic displays for museums, equipped two touch tables and four iPads that provide context for and information about the Frick family, items in the museums' collections and life in Pittsburgh during the late 19th century.

Visitors can choose to learn a little or a lot by tapping and swiping images, such as paintings in the art museum's collections, ice-cream forks that would have been used for a dinner at Clayton or a portrait of industrialist Henry Clay Frick.

Those who prefer low-tech information sources can settle into one of the center's comfortable brick-red arm chairs and browse through volumes on art history and objects, local history and biographies that fill nearby bookshelves.

Display cases will allow curators to offer frequently rotated exhibits of items from the abundant collection of clothing and artifacts from Clayton as well as seldom displayed objects in the art museum's archives.

“The whole place is meant to be a resource. … It lets us show wonderful images and terrific archival material. But it's also a way to let you know who Henry Clay Frick was,” Amanda Gillen, the Frick's director of education, says.

“The goal was to (offer) a varied experience in different ways about the pleasure of looking and discovering. Hopefully, you take that into the galleries to experience,” says Sarah Hall, director of curatorial affairs for the museum.

The Frick's board began planning for the Orientation Center in 2008 as the first of a three-part expansion plan. But it wasn't until 2011 that the project moved forward concretely.

“The purpose of the whole project is to preserve and protect the collection, diversify our audience and enhance the visitor experience,” Carolyn Reed, board chairwoman, says.

She is thrilled with the speed in which construction moved ahead. “We only broke ground in June 2013. To be opening in July 2014 is remarkable,” Reed says.

Now that the orientation center is open, she looks forward to moving on to phases 2 and 3, which will begin in early August.

Phase 2 will re-purpose the former Car and Carriage Museum space into an education center. An addition to that building will create a new Car and Carriage Museum on the Homewood Avenue side of the property. The facility will provide climate-controlled storage space for parts of the collections that are now stored off-site.

Phase 3 will create a community center that will function as an eating space for tour groups and a meeting place for community groups.

“We really do want to be a resource for community groups to meet,” Reed says.

She expects to break ground on the construction in early August. “By next fall, we will be done-done,” Reed says.

Alice T. Carter is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or or via Twitter @ATCarter_Trib.

Opening weekend

A variety of admission-free activities are planned for July 19 and 20 to celebrate the opening of the Frick Art & Historical Center's new Orientation Center and Frick Museum Store.

Where: The Frick Art & Historical Center, 7227 Reynolds St., Point Breeze

Details: 412-371-0600 or

Admission is free for the Frick Art Museum and self-tours of the first and second floors of Clayton from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. on both days. Other free activities include:

July 19

11 a.m.-3 p.m.: Hands-on guessing game. Design and build a fold-up museum to take home. Grounds near Children's Playhouse

11 a.m.: Gallery talk on “Collecting Degas” presented by Laura Ainsley, assistant curator of education. Art Museum

1 p.m.: Artist talk by Audra Azoury, jewelry designer. Orientation Center

2 p.m.: Docent tour of “Edgar Degas: The Private Impressionist — Works on Paper by the Artist and His Circle.” Museum

2-4 p.m.: Meet the architects before and after the design talk that begins at 3 p.m. Orientation Center

July 20

11 a.m.-3 p.m.: Hands-on guessing game. Design and build a fold-up museum to take home. Grounds near Children's Playhouse

11 a.m.: Gallery talk on “Edgar Degas,” led by Sarah Hall, director of curatorial affairs. Museum

11 a.m.-1 p.m.: Meet the architects before and after the design talk that begins at noon. Orientation Center

2 p.m.: Docent tour of “Edgar Degas.” Museum

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