Gillespie centennial to celebrate legacy of former RU distinguished professor

Born in 1920 in Roanoke, Virginia, Dorothy Gillespie rose to fame in New York City during the 1940s when she began to blaze a path as a prominent abstract expressionist. Her works in painting, sculpture and mixed media made her a world-famous artist during an era when opportunities for women artists were extremely limited.

On Saturday, September 21 at 11 a.m., the Radford University Art Museum will hold its opening reception for the Dorothy Gillespie Centennial Exhibition. The retrospective celebrates the 100th anniversary of the late artist by featuring works from the Radford University Art Museum’s permanent collection. The exhibit will pay homage to the variety of styles and media in which Gillespie worked during her lifetime of artistic achievements. Gary Israel, Gillespie’s son and President of the Dorothy Gillespie Foundation, is planning to attend the opening ceremony. His knowledge of his mother’s works will offer a special treat for guests wanting to learn more about the artist. Israel stated “My mother's connection to Radford University began in the 1960s when she loaned one of her pieces to the institute. Over the years she continued to donate art to the University, and she was instrumental in procuring gifts from other artists for an ever-growing University collection. Today her paintings and sculptures are featured throughout campus.”

Dorothy Gillespie's installation at the Rockefeller Center in New York City
Gillespie's "Color, Light and Motion" installation on display in 2003 at the Rockefeller Center in New York City

Gillespie’s roots are firmly planted at Radford University, where she once taught as a distinguished professor of art. She also started the art museum’s permanent collection by acquiring a variety of important works for the museum, including 250 pieces from the estate of prominent New York art dealer, Betty Parsons. Gillespie was also responsible for the museum’s acquisition of 281 works by noted American artist Adolf Dehn. She continued to add to the collection well into the 21st century.

Gillespie’s expansive body of work covered a variety of trends in 20th century art. While she experimented with diverse styles and media, her abstract expressionist works gained her the most fame. Gillespie created numerous site-specific installations across the United States and beyond, with her most famous being an installation at the Rockefeller Center in New York City in 2003.  And while she pioneered work in abstract expressionism, she is perhaps best known for her large-scale metal sculptures featuring colorful arrangements of metal strips that curl and wind into bursts of bright colors and wiggly, abstract shapes. Art Museum Director Steve Arbury remarked, “Dorothy Gillespie’s magical art has brought joy to many thousands over the years and it continues to do so. The Radford University Art Museum is fortunate to house the largest public collection of her work.”

The Dorothy Gillespie Centennial Exhibition will run from September 21 through December 6, 2019 at the Radford University Art Museum at the Covington Center. Regular museum hours are Monday through Friday 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from noon until 4 p.m. Admission to both the opening reception and the exhibit are free.

Aug 20, 2019
Jason S. Hutchens, Ed.D.