Dorothy Gillespie, a Roanoke native whose artwork has adorned public spaces from south Florida to New York City and museums from Israel to Richmond, died Sunday morning of natural causes in Coral Springs, Fla., according to her family. She was 92.
Nearly everyone in Roanoke has passed by Gillespie’s work. She designed and donated the 50-by-50-foot jigsaw puzzle mural on the former Grand Piano & Furniture Co. building in downtown Roanoke, created the five-story waterfall of sparkling aluminum confetti inside Center in the Square and gave a 24-part painting on golden aluminum panels to Jefferson Center. The painter, sculptor, mother and grandmother grew up on Staunton Avenue and graduated from Jefferson High School before attending the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore and moving to New York City in the 1940s.
In a 1998 interview with The Roanoke Times, Gillespie said her parents were steadfast in their belief that their daughter would attend what is now Radford University and become a schoolteacher. They finally budged when a preacher visited the family. Gillespie told him, as she still told all who asked, that she would be attending art school.
“Well,” the preacher replied, “you have a God-given talent.”
Dorothy Gillespie, an artist and sculptor with long ties to the Wilmington area, died Sunday in Coral Gables, Fla. She was 92.
Gillespie was known for her site-specific works, often composed of aluminum strips coated in brightly colored enamel. A prime example is “Colorfall,” a 40-foot tall construction which hang in the lobby of Wilmington's Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts.
Gillespie had been a Wilmington visitor since at least 1981, when the former Deacon Gallery on Castle Street mounted a show of her work. In 1982, she was the featured artist at the St. Thomas Celebration of the Arts, a Wilmington-based arts event.
In 2005 and 2006, the Cameron Art Museum displayed “Dorothy Gillespie: Reflections,” a retrospective. Among the speakers during the show's run was Tony Rivenbark of Wilmington, who had worked as an assistant in Gillespie's New York studio.
A native of Roanoke, Va., Gillespie once told a hometown interviewer that her work had been initially inspired by seeing a Christmas tree as a child.
A graduate of Jefferson High School in Roanoke, Gillespie attended the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore before heading to New York in the 1940s. She later studied at the Art Students' League and at Stanley William Hayter's Atelier 17 in New York.
To make ends meet, she operated a restaurant and night club in Greenwich Village with her husband, Bernard Israel. After the couple sold the night spot in the 1970s, Gillespie began to focus on her art full-time.
Gillespie's massive constructions were installed at Lincoln Center in New York, at Epcot Center in Orlando, Fla. (where the artist long had a studio), and in museums across the United States and in Israel.
Her husband died in 1992. The couple had three children.
Private memorial services are being planned for New York and Florida, where Gillespie had homes.