My old friend, the art museum director

I’m dedicating this column in memory of an old friend who passed away five years ago this week — the one I always kidded by telling him he was smart enough to be Jewish…

Edgar Munhall was a brilliant student in my Pittsburgh high school class. I guess I was “brilliant” also at the time, since Eddie and I constantly exchanged class standings — always one or two, then back again. But he was also gifted with the focus that I never had: He was dedicated to all things Frick.

Henry Clay Frick, an iconic Pittsburgher, was one of America’s great industrialists in the mid-19th to early 20th century, and also a great patron of the arts. Eddie grew up in a beautiful residential area called Shadyside, within easy walking distance of the Frick Mansion, which had morphed into an informal museum with an amazing collection of artwork, always open for viewing. Eddie took that walk and saw that collection many, many times as he was growing up, and the lure of Frick became, quite literally, his life’s center, and the determiner of his career.

After our graduation, Eddie and I parted ways for what I assumed would be forever, since I was entering a local university and he was off to study art and art history at Yale. We didn’t see each other again for decades, but when we did, it was a reunion to remember. I was visiting my sister at her New York City home when one day we took a stroll and passed the Frick Museum. Guess who was its director? I had no idea…

While we were in high school and both studying Latin, Eddie had adopted additions to his first and last names: For the love of that ancient language, he added two letters to each, making him “Edgarus Munhallus.” I couldn’t match him on that since my surname already ended, from birth, in “u-s.” But during that museum stop, I asked the receptionist to tell the director that someone wanted to see him — someone who remembered him from when we were studying Latin together and he had adapted a bit of it for his own use. Of course, Eddie had no difficulty figuring out who that was, and came galloping down from his upstairs office for our joyous reunion.

Years later, he sent me a copy of a big, heavy book he’d written after his retirement. It’s about a very obscure artist called “Greuze the Draftsman.” I have it with me now; I have never read it. But it doesn’t seem so daunting today, and it is very prominent now on a bookcase shelf in my new home, so I’ve added it to the list of books I must read “someday.” In memory of Eddie — I do believe that “someday” may be just around the corner…

P.S.: Whenever I go to Pittsburgh, I pre-dedicate one Sunday morning to take my son and his grandson Lex (my great-grandson, of course!) out for breakfast, after which we spend several hours in Frick Park, where one of the most creative children’s playgrounds in our country is located, built and dedicated to the memory of Henry Clay Frick. I, now the aged grandma, sit on a bench, watch the action and think about Eddie Munhall.

Harriet Gross can be reached at

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