Radford University Loses a Great Friend

Dorothy Gillespie

Dorothy Gillespie, celebrated artist and friend of Radford University, died peacefully in her sleep on Sunday, September 30, at the age of 92 after living an exhilarating active and productive life as one of America’s foremost female artists.

The noted New York artist grew up in Roanoke before attending the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore and moving to New York City in the 1940s. 
Dorothy Gillespie knew she wanted to be an artist from the age of 5, but her parents wanted her to attend Radford University and become a schoolteacher. Her parents finally relented after the family preacher visited one day. When Gillespie told him that she would be attending art school, he replied, 

“Well, you have a God-given talent.”

Once in New York City, Gillespie spent years making art whenever she had the chance, while raising three children and running a restaurant and nightclub with her husband, Bernard Israel, in Greenwich Village. When the couple sold their restaurant in the 1970s, Gillespie began to focus full time on her art. 

 Gillespie was involved in trend-setting art movements, including ‘environments’ and ‘happenings,’ in the forefront of the women’s art movement and made her mark on art history by helping to open the art world to women artists.

A Distinguished Professor of Art at RU, Dorothy Gillespie was a great friend to the university. The Radford University Art Museum owes its inception to Ms. Gillespie because not only did she inaugurate the campaign for a new art gallery in the 1980s (the former Flossie Martin Gallery in Porterfield), but she also gave advice on its design. Once the gallery was completed, it was Ms. Gillespie who engineered a major bequest of more than 250 works of art from the estate of famed New York gallery dealer Betty Parsons. Through her intervention, the Art Museum later received a significant gift of nearly 300 works on paper by noted American artist Adolf Dehn. Ms. Gillespie was responsible for other gifts of art to the Art Museum as well. 

In addition to helping build the RU Art Museum collection, Ms. Gillespie involved herself directly with the students, coming to campus on a regular basis to speak to classes about art and the art world. She also let students observe and assist in her on-campus studio where she created small portable sculptures. Ms. Gillespie adored the students and they adored her.

Dorothy Gillespie’s work can be seen across the nation and in other countries as far away as Israel. Among other places, her colorful sculptures have been exhibited in Rockefeller Center in New York and Disney World in Florida. 

The RU Art Museum houses more than 90 works of art by Dorothy Gillespie — the largest collection of her art in the nation. Many of her pieces are on display about campus.

You can see more of Dorothy Gillespie's artwork and share your thoughts on her facebook page found here: http://www.facebook.com/gillespieart.

Read more at The Roanoke Times.


Oct 2, 2012
College of Visual & Performing Arts