NRCC presents Black History Month program

One of the 50+ pieces of artwork by Dorothy Gillespie installed throughout Radford is at Calhoun Street and Tyler Avenue.

Gray winter days will be a bit brighter now that twists of colors are popping up all over the City of Radford. More than 50 pieces of artwork that once graced the Channel Gardens at New York City’s iconic Rockefeller Center are being installed throughout the municipality’s residential, business and governmental districts.

The art is by international painter and sculptor Dorothy Gillespie, who grew up in Roanoke and was instrumental in helping Radford University create its permanent art collection. She often lectured in her role as Distinguished Professor of Art. Gillespie, who passed away in 2012, also was known for sharing her expertise with art organizations throughout the region.

The exhibit of brightly colored, enamel-painted aluminum sculptures features soaring spirals, starbursts and panels and will be on view through early June 2020.

“We’re so delighted to be part of the Dorothy Gillespie Centennial Exhibition taking place throughout the U.S.,” said Deborah Cooney, Radford’s tourism director. Cooney noted that Radford is indebted to Dorothy’s son, Gary Israel, for loaning the collection. “Mr. Israel has been supportive of the city’s public art program from its initiation and, in fact, loaned Glencoe Mansion a work to install at the Mary Draper Ingles Cultural Heritage Park a couple of years ago.”

According to her official biography, Gillespie earned a degree at the Maryland Institute of Art and arrived in New York City in 1943. Although she started as a traditional painter-on-canvas, she began experimenting with abstraction in the 50s and 60s. By the 1970s she had developed her trademark style of painting colorful abstract forms on metal. The pieces were then cut and shaped into willowy ribbon-like works that became both painting and sculpture.

The “Welcome to Radford” sign at the end of Memorial Bridge now has a colorful twist courtesy of the artwork of Dorothy Gillespie.

Gillespie’s works have appeared all over the country in both public and private spaces. They have appeared in the permanent collections of notable museums such as the Guggenheim and Brooklyn museums in New York City, in airports and corporate headquarters, on the ballet stage and at Disney World’s Epcot Theme Park.

Cooney noted that the celebration of Gillespie’s works and life is especially important since it coincides with the 100th anniversary of passage of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women’s constitutional right to vote. Gillespie herself was an important player in the women’s art movement both at the Women’s Interart Center and as a lecturer at the New School for Social Research in New York. Throughout her career she championed women artists.

Because of the playfulness of Gillespie’s artwork, Cooney said she will be working with city teachers to involve school children in the celebration. In addition, Coonsey said, plans are under way for a special event to recognize Gillespie’s contributions with a guest presentation by her son.

The Radford installation has been made possible through the efforts of the Dorothy Gillespie Foundation, the Radford City Council and the Tourism Department with assistance from the Beautification and Municipal Forest Commission and Public Works.

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