Signature RU artwork candidate for restoration

Dorothy Gillespie stands near "Sky Castles" after its latest restoration.

The four aluminum towers of “Sky Castles” are colorful beacons of welcome at Radford University, but now the paint is flaking away from their surfaces and there are no umbrellas to shield them from the elements that are contributing to deterioration of this beloved work of art.

Created by acclaimed sculptor Dorothy Gillespie, a Southwest Virginia native and former RU faculty member, "Sky Castles" is one of 17 historical objects competing for inclusion in Virginia’s Top Ten Endangered Artifacts list, coordinated by the Virginia Association of Museums (VAM). This statewide initiative ensures the ongoing safety and stewardship of collections held by Virginia’s museums, libraries and archives.

According to VAM, the endangered artifacts designation offers collecting institutions across the Commonwealth of Virginia and the District of Columbia the opportunity to share their significant stories while building awareness of the threats and expense they face in serving as stewards of their collections.

With its deteriorating paint, "Sky Castles" and its status as part of the Radford University Art Museum Collection, it is eligible for inclusion as an endangered artifact.

"The piece has been exposed to the elements since its creation in 1999," said Museum Director Steve Arbury. "In 2005 the artist rectified minor damage, but Ms. Gillespie died last fall, so another such restoration is not possible."

Dorothy Gillespie restores sculpture

Gillespie was able to provide a partial restoration of the sculpture before her death in 2012. The artist left instructions with RU for maintenance and care of the piece.

In order to save the Gillespie piece, the paint must be removed through a soda blasting process and then repainted in the same four original background colors specified by the artist. Before her death, the museum received her permission to conserve the piece in this way.

“Sky Castles” is a significant work of art for both Southwest Virginia and the Radford University Museum Collection. It was originally displayed at Disney World’s Epcot Center in Florida and is now situated at the main entrance to the university.

Visitors are encouraged to experience the vivid sculpture on the RU campus in front of Davis Hall. In helping Radford to save this important work of art, Highlanders and friends of the university can show their support by voting for “Sky Castles” as one of Virginia’s Top Ten Endangered Artifacts through August 29. To vote for one of the works in this year’s competition or to learn more about the program visit

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Aug 9, 2013
Dan Waidelich
(540) 831-7749