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New Frick director chosen for creativity, energy, dynamic personality

| Wednesday, June 4, 2014, 12:18 p.m.
David Stover, Virginia
Robin Nicholson

The new director of Frick Art & Historical Center will begin his role during a time of growth for the institution.

Robin Nicholson, 47, deputy director for art and education at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond, will become the institution's third director on Sept. 2. Frick director Bill Bodine is retiring at the end of June.

This summer, the Frick will open an orientation center, marking the culmination of the first phase of a site-wide expansion project that began in 2012. Other planned improvements include a relocated and expanded education center, additional gallery space for the Car and Carriage Museum, storage space for the fine and decorative art collection, and a community center. The total cost of the expansion project is $15 million.

“I think this is an ideal opportunity for him to step in as we open the orientation center and begin phase two,” Reed said. “For him, it's perfect timing.”

Nicholson said he's excited to build on the momentum of the project.

“All art museums are trying to work out where they will be in 10, 20, 60 years,” he said. “This is an opportunity for the Frick to examine itself, in a way. It has all this great strength and opportunity. How can we capitalize on that to achieve the mission?”

In his 12 years with Frick, Bodine “built on the foundation built by (first director) Dick McIntosh,” said Carolyn “Cary” Reed, chair of the Frick's board of trustees and search committee member. “... We will all miss him, wish him well, and know Robin will continue to move the Frick forward in the cultural community.”

Located on the late 19th-century Point Breeze estate of industrialist Henry Clay Frick, the Frick Art & Historical Center opened in 1970 as the steward of collections left as a legacy to the people of Pittsburgh by Frick's daughter, Helen Clay Frick. The permanent collections include fine and decorative arts, cars, carriages and historic objects.

Nicholson has published and lectured extensively on 18th- and 19th-century European art and authored a book on the portraiture of Prince Charles Edward Stuart, published by Bucknell University Press in 2002.

At the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Nicholson has overseen the museum's curatorial, exhibitions, education, statewide partnerships, publications and library departments. He began his tenure in 2006 as director for exhibitions.

Alex Nyerges, director of the Virginia museum, said Nicholson oversaw one of its most significant major exhibition projects, “Picasso, Masterpieces from the Musée Picasso, Paris,” in early 2011, which more than 250,000 people viewed.

“He is a creative thinker,” Nyeges said. “There's that overused saying about thinking outside the box, but there are no boxes in his world.”

Nicholson spent 14 years as director and curator of the corporate art collection of Drambuie Corporation, headquartered in Edinburgh, Scotland.

The move to the Frick is a natural next step, Nicholson said.

“I was looking for a mid-size museum that had a lot of opportunity, was in a strong position financially and in terms of staff and support,” he said. “That's really what spoke to me about the Frick. It's a young museum and there are amazing opportunities for it to grow.”

Reed said the seven-member search committee looked for “creativity, energy, experience in the museum world, an appreciation for the Frick collection, and a dynamic personality.”

“I think we found all things in Robin,” Reed said. “We liked the growth in his career. ... He has a wealth of experience.”

Nicholson will visit Pittsburgh this week and hopes to find a home by August.

“What's happening in Pittsburgh is so exciting,” he said. “There are new restaurants, people are moving Downtown. Obviously, the city is on a dramatic rebound from its past. It's something that's very appealing.”

Rachel Weaver is a Trib Total Media staff writer. Reach her at 412-320-7948 or rweaver@tribweb.com.

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