Modern Art Meets Modern Science

Melinda (Mindy) Keefe, R&D Manager

An Art Conservation Crusader

A painter and then a chemist, Melinda Keefe is using science to make better choices for art conservation.

From the Terracotta Warriors to the Sistine Chapel, Dow has long played a role preserving and conserving the world’s oldest and greatest treasures.

Since 2008, Melinda Keefe, Ph.D., has led Dow’s efforts in supporting these artful causes. All while navigating many other areas of coating science: polymer synthesis, paint formulation design, high-throughput coatings research, customer product development, art conservation science, and today a leader in the coatings business.

Keefe, Senior R&D Manager with Dow Coating Materials, started out her undergraduate years as an art major before switching to chemistry. Since joining Dow in 2001, she’s found a way to merge both of her talents into one gratifying job. She specializes in paint formulation design and testing, with a portion of her time spent on efforts to improve art conservation.

“I gravitated to this area because I like to paint,” she says. “And now I leverage what I know about house paint to benefit fine art.”

After discovering the field of art conservation science well into her career, Keefe was thrilled to be offered a fellowship in 2008 at the renowned Tate Gallery in London. However, she wasn’t so thrilled about the prospect of leaving behind her job at Dow—not to mention, living a long distance from her husband.

So Keefe told her boss about the dilemma and together they came up with a solution: A partnership between Tate Gallery and Dow to develop new methods and tools for the safe cleaning of important works of art. The Getty Conservation Institute, part of the J. Paul Getty Trust joined the effort too, and now all three entities work together to inform the larger art conservation community of new techniques.

“It’s all about preserving our heritage. We’re using science to make better choices for conservation,” Keefe says. “These works of art will degrade over time. We’re trying to slow that rate and preserve them for future generations.”

Her work in art conservation has included improving wet cleaning systems for acrylic painted surfaces and other water sensitive art. These new approaches to cleaning artwork are being broadly disseminated within the art conservation field via workshops, conferences, invited lectures and publications. A highlight of Dow's contribution has been assisting Tate on solvent selection in support of the removal of graffiti ink from Mark Rothko’s painting Black on Maroon.

Keefe is among 10 scientists nationally to be recognized in 2015 by the American Chemical Society with a Women Chemists Committee (WCC) Rising Star Award. The award recognizes outstanding women scientists approaching mid-level careers who have demonstrated outstanding contributions to their respective fields. (Read more about the recognition.)

Keefe received a B.S. in Chemistry from Penn State University in 1997 and a Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry from Northwestern University in 2001. She was awarded the 2013 R&D 100 Award, 2013 Presidential Green Chemistry Award, and the 2014 Fortune 500 “Heroes of the 500” Award.


ACS Women Chemists Committee Rising Star Award- 2015

Heroes of the 500: Fortune- 2014

Presidential Green Chemistry Award- 2013

R&D 100 Award- 2013


American Chemical Society

American Institute of Conservation

Formulation with Defoamer, US9340686B2

Bimodal Latexes for Latex Absorption, CA 2855046A1

Stable Aqueous Composite Compositions, US 8710133B2.

Producing Heat Treated Structured Polymer Particles, Useful e.g. as Opacifying Agents in Paper Coating, Comprises Heating Aqueous Dispersion of Structured Polymer Particles, Optionally in Presence of Base and/or Swelling Agent, US 8912251B2

“Evolution of Functional Polymer Colloids for Coatings and Other Applications,” Klier, J.; Bohling, J.; Keefe, M.; AIChE Journal, Vol 62, Number 7, 2238-2247, 2016

“Mineral Spirits-Based Microemulsions: A Novel Cleaning System for Painted Surfaces,” Ormsby, B.; Keefe, M.; Phenix, A.; von Aderkas, E.; Learner, T.; Tucker, C.; Kozak, C.; Journal of the American Institute of Conservation, Vol 55: 1, 12-31, 2016

“Cleaning Acrylic Paints: Mineral Spirits-Based Microemulsions and the Questions of Residues,” Ormsby, B.; Willneff, E.; Clark Jr., M.; Lopez, J.; Keefe, M.; Phenix, A.; CESMAR7 Proceedings, 97-106, 2016

Oberlin College, Blumeno Lectureship in Art & Science, 2016. Invited Speaker

Columbus Regional ACS Meeting, 2016. Invited Speaker

251st ACS National Meeting & Exposition; San Diego, CA; 2016. Invited Speaker

249th ACS National Meeting & Exposition; Denver, CO; 2015. Invited Speaker

“The removal of graffiti ink from Mark Rothko’s Untitled (Black on Maroon), 1958. A collaborative approach.” (2014). ICOM-CC 17th Triennial Conference Preprints, Melbourne, Ormsby, Bronwyn., Barker, Rachel;  Keefe, Melinda;  Tucker, Christopher; Donate, Felipe and Smithen, Patricia 15–19, September 2014.

“Recent developments in wet surface cleaning systems:  unvarnished modern and contemporary painted surfaces” ICON Painting Group Conference: Ormsby, Bronwyn; Keefe, Melinda; Learner, Tom; Phenix, Alan, October 2014.  

“Cryo-Electron Microscopy of Latex-Pigment Composites for Enhanced Hiding in Latex Paints” Reffner, John; Bohling, James; Keefe, Melinda Microscopy and Microanalysis, August 2014.

Cleaning of Acrylics Painted Surfaces Workshop, Canadian Conservation Institute, Ottawa, August 2014.

“Evaluation of cleaning agents for artists’ acrylic paints with the aid of high-throughput testing” American Oil Chemist Society, May 2014. Invited Speaker

“Development of Novel Cleaning Systems for Acrylic Emulsion Paints” NYU Conservation School, April 16th, 2014. Invited Speaker

“Probing the TiO2-Polymer composite formation for a New Class of Latex Paint by AFFFF-MALS”, Gao, W.;  Bohling, James; Keefe, Melinda (MH); Zhang, Qing (R&D); Leonard, Michael; Tiwary, Yogesh; Cooper, Beth (B); Brownell, Stan Dallas, TX, 2014 Spring National ACS Meeting, March 2014.

 “Watching Paint Age”, Eastern Analytical Symposium, November 2013.  Invited Speaker

Harris; Keith; Keefe, Melinda; Tucker, Christopher, “High Throughput Research for Formulators” Inform, 2013, 24, 3, 183.

Recent Select Publications/Presentations External to Dow

Keefe, Melinda et al.”Art and Industry: Novel Approaches to the Evaluation and Development of Cleaning Systems for Artists’ Acrylic Latex Paints” Coatings Tech, 2011, 9, 30.

Kan, Charles; Keefe, Melinda; Saucier, Peter “Application of Microcalorimetery to the Study of Interactions in Coating Formulations.” J. Coat. Technology Res., 2011, 8, 1, 1.