Blythe McCarthy Appointed Andrew W. Mellon Senior Scientist
at the Freer and Sackler Galleries
Media only: Ellie Reynolds, 202.633.0521; Elizabeth Bridgforth, 202.633.0521
Public only: 202.633.1000
Blythe McCarthy recently was appointed the Andrew W. Mellon Senior Scientist in the Department of Conservation and Scientific Research at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. McCarthy, who has worked as a scientist at the galleries since 1998, is responsible for administering the conservation science section of the department, which conducts research on works of art primarily in the Freer and Sackler collections. She assumes the role held by the late John Winter, a 35 year Smithsonian veteran of the department until his retirement last spring. Winter was highly respected for his research on East Asian painting and scholarly contributions to the field of conservation.
“The history of this department has been built by a remarkable group of distinguished scientists. Blythe McCarthy was here as a protégé of John Winter for a decade, and we are especially pleased that she was the most qualified applicant for his post,” said Julian Raby, director of the Freer and Sackler Galleries.
In her previous role as a conservation scientist, McCarthy studied the materials and techniques used by artists in the creation of works of art as well as special problems encountered in the conservation process. Her primary research interests included technical analysis of ceramics, glasses and pigments; the study of degradation mechanisms in materials; and the application of nondestructive testing techniques to museum objects.
McCarthy was a research fellow at the Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles (1996-98) and the Fraunhofer Insitut für Silicatforschung in Würzburg, Germany (1994-96). She has also written and contributed to numerous scientific papers, with topics ranging from “The Study of Lead Glazes from the Cizhou Kiln Site at Guantai” and “Nondestructive Characterization of Gilded Bronzes” to “Technical Analysis of Reds and Yellows from the Tomb of Suemniwet.”
McCarthy received her doctorate in materials science and engineering from The Johns Hopkins University in 1996 where she was one of a small number of graduates in a joint Smithsonian and Johns Hopkins program in conservation science. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The Freer and Sackler Department of Conservation and Scientific Research, first established as the “Technical Laboratory” in November 1951 by Rutherford J. Gettens, constituted the first government facility devoted to the use of scientific methods for the study of works of art. Gettens and his colleagues at the Freer are remembered in the field for numerous historic accomplishments, including a two-volume catalog of the Freer’s important collection of Chinese bronzes, as well as international efforts to create a comprehensive, scientific description of traditional artists’ pigments.
Today, the laboratory continues to makes significant contributions to the international community and remains the only laboratory in the country (and outside of Asia) that focuses on the scientific study and research of Asian art. In 2004, the position of senior scientist was endowed by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation in an effort to secure the future of scientific research and technical study of the museums’ collections. Other contributors to the endowment include the Starr Foundation, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the Stockman Family Foundation and several individuals, including Robert Ellsworth and the Friends of the Freer and Sackler Galleries.
The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Avenue S.W., and the adjacent Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the National Mall. For more information about the Freer and Sackler galleries, the public is welcome to visit asia.si.edu. For general Smithsonian information, the public may call (202) 633-1000.
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