Along with her initial shock at the vandalism came another emotion: a determination to do something about it.
Keefe, a senior research scientist at
At labs in
A mixture of two of these, taken from Dow's list of top 16 candidates, was ultimately used by Tate conservators to remove the graffiti from the work, titled
"It was an honor to be able to help," said Keefe, a chemist now stationed at Dow's research labs in
"What Dow contributed was key to minimizing any experiments on the painting itself," Ormsby said.
The 1958 canvas was part of a series initially intended for the walls of the Four Seasons restaurant in
Meanwhile, scientists set to work undoing the damage.
Keefe already had worked with Ormsby in a long-term partnership to develop better methods for cleaning modern art. Along with colleagues at the
Keefe, who earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry from
The Rothko presented an unusual challenge.
As with any attempt to clean a painting, the Tate conservators needed to dissolve or otherwise remove the offending substance while causing as little harm as possible to the painting itself.
But as in many of his other works, Rothko had used a variety of media in
Tate officials ordered more of the ink that Umanets had used and sent some of it to Keefe. Dow conducted tests on the ink and ran the results through software to come up with a list of several dozen candidate solvents.
Keefe and colleagues, including
The former is a type of alcohol, as the name indicates; the latter is from a class of compounds called esters, and is considered biodegradable.
"It's fairly new to conservation," Keefe said. "It was something that they don't typically use."
Though Keefe's main contribution to the 18-month project lasted just a few days, she remained in contact throughout, and went to the gallery in May to see the painting when it was rehung.
In the dim lighting of the gallery, the retouched area looks very much as it did originally, though traces of the repair work can be seen in bright light, Ormsby said.
"That's going to be part of the painting's history," Ormsby said. "It's going to be with us forever now."
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