Blythe McCarthy serves as the Andrew W. Mellon Senior Scientist at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, which together comprise the National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.
McCarthy holds a doctorate from The Johns Hopkins University and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in materials science and engineering.
She has been at the museum since 1998 as a conservation scientist, assuming her current role in 2008. In 2015–16, she held an American Association for the Advancement of Science and Technology Policy Fellowship at the U.S. Department of State where she worked on cultural heritage programs related to Syria and Iraq in the departments Cultural Heritage Center. Prior to joining the National Museum of Asian Art, she was a research fellow at the Getty Conservation Institute (1996–98) and a Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD) fellow at the Fraunhofer Institut für Silicatforschung, Germany (1994–96).
McCarthy has published extensively on the materials of the arts of Asia, and the recent volume Scientific Studies of Pigments in Chinese Paintings presents the results of many years of research of the scientific team at the Freer. Her work has also informed the exhibits Whistler in Watercolor and Prehistoric Spirals: Earthenware from Thailand which she co-curated.
She is a past Chair of the Art, Archaeology and Conservation Science Division and maintains affiliations with the Basic Science and Glass and Optical Materials Divisions.
Her research spans the cultures of Asia, focusing on the materials of art and non-destructive methods for their analysis. Current projects include collaborative multi-disciplinary studies of Chinese ceramics and bronzes.