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Caroline K. Keck, Art Conservator, Dies at 99

Posted By Administration, Tuesday, January 15, 2008
Updated: Monday, January 13, 2014

Caroline K. Keck, a pioneer of art conservation, died on Dec. 17 at her home in Cooperstown, N.Y. She was 99.

Her death was announced by her son Lawrence Waugh Keck.


Mrs. Keck and her husband, Sheldon Keck, were two of the most influential conservators of the modern era. They were instrumental in converting the centuries-old craft of art restoration into a profession based on scientific research, the use of modern technology and adherence to shared methodological standards. While art restorers once were secretive and too often used techniques that harmed artworks, the Kecks insisted that conservators should thoroughly document their procedures and that everything done to a piece should be easily and fully reversible.

In 1960 the Kecks founded the Conservation Center of the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University, with Mr. Keck directing the center until 1965. In 1970, under the auspices of the State University of New York College at Oneonta, the Kecks established the Cooperstown Conservation training program, in which Mrs. Keck worked and taught until she retired in 1981. Graduates of both programs now work for major museums throughout the United States. In 1987 the Cooperstown program moved and became part of SUNY Buffalo.

Mrs. Keck wrote several important books in the field, including "How to Take Care of Your Pictures," first published by the Brooklyn Museum and the Museum of Modern Art in 1954. It remains a classic, along with "Handbook on the Care of Paintings" (1965), "A Primer on Museum Security" (1966) and "Safeguarding Your Collection in Travel" (1970).

Caroline Martin Kohn was born in New York City. She graduated from Vassar College and received a master's degree in art history from Harvard University in 1932. She met Mr. Keck when they both took a course on art materials at the Fogg Art Museum at Harvard. They were married in 1933. Mr. Keck died in 1993.

In 1934 Mr. Keck established an art conservation laboratory at the Brooklyn Museum, and he ran it until 1961. Mrs. Keck worked closely with him, and she oversaw the program when he was away for military service during World War II and when he was on research trips.

After World War II the Kecks helped establish conservation departments in numerous museums. They were consultants for the Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, the Phillips Collection in Washington and other institutions. Mrs. Keck, who was well known for her strong opinions, irreverent manner and salty language, also served as personal conservator for the painters Georgia O'Keeffe and Edwin Dickinson and for the art collection of Nelson A. Rockefeller.

In addition to her son Lawrence, of Annandale, Va., Mrs. Keck is survived by another son, Albert, of Cooperstown, and two grandchildren.
By Ken Johnson
For The New York Times

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