Harry Dobson Miller Grier (1914-1972)
Architect, archaeologist, art scholar, and museum director, Harry Dobson Miller Grier was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1914. He earned a degree in architecture from Pennsylvania State University in 1935 and continued his graduate studies as a Carnegie fellow in the Department of Art and Archeology at Princeton from 1935 to 1938. He participated in the 1937 Princeton excavation at Antioch, in present day Turkey, and spent the summer of 1936 at the Institut d’Art et d’Archeologie at the University of Paris. After completing his postgraduate studies at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts, he joined the Department of Education at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 1938.
Grier was granted leave from the Metropolitan to enlist in the U.S. Army in August 1941. He worked first as a captain in the infantry while stationed with the U.S. Army Counter-Intelligence Corps, and later participated in the Normandy invasion. While Grier was included in early lists of U.S. Army personnel requested by the Roberts Commission for MFAA service, the request for transfer was denied. However, the Roberts Commission was persistent in their pursuit of Grier; he was officially assigned to the MFAA in October 1945. He served with Monuments Men Lt. Col. Mason Hammond and Maj. L. Bancel LaFarge at MFAA headquarters in Berlin, and later became Acting Chief of the MFAA Section for the Office of Military Government for Germany (OMGUS) from 1945 to 1946. He is credited with reaching an agreement between all four occupying countries in Germany as part of the Allied Control Commission concerning the restitution of looted works of art in the U.S. Zone of Occupation. For his wartime service, he was awarded a Bronze Star with Oak-Leaf cluster and named an Officer of the Order of Leopold II by the Belgian government.
Upon his return to the United States in 1946, Grier joined the Minneapolis Institute of Art as Assistant Director. There, he implemented an education program, TV and radio programming, gallery talks and studio courses. In May 1951 he returned to New York and commenced a two-decade long career at the Frick Collection which included his promotion to Assistant Director in January 1954 and Director in May 1964. During the course of his innovative tenure at the Collection, he increased museum attendance, created the Collection’s first curatorial department, strengthened the building’s security, and introduced a new system of temperature and humidity controls. In addition, he co-authored the first two volumes of the Collection’s catalogue in 1968, helped produce the comprehensive book Masterpieces of The Frick Collection (1970), and oversaw important acquisitions, including works by Jan van Eyck, Claude Lorrain, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, and Hans Memling. He remained at the Frick Collection until his death in 1972.
Grier was a prominent fixture in the American museum community throughout the 1960s. He served as president of the Association of American Museum Directors, trustee of the International Exhibition Foundation, trustee of the Amon Carter Museum of Western Art in Fort Worth, Texas, Director of the American Friends of Attingham, and Chairman of the Museums Council of New York City.
Harry Grier died in a traffic accident on May 30, 1972. Soon after his death, to honor the accomplishments of its third director, the Frick Collection held the exhibition Harry D.M. Grier Memorial Loan Exhibition: Paintings and Drawings Related to Works in the Frick Collection from November 14-26, 1972.