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Arts & Extras: Dorothy Gillespie sculptures brighten Hollins museum

Arts & Extras: Dorothy Gillespie sculptures brighten Hollins museum


Once meant to be part of a centennial celebration for the late Roanoke-board artist, the show will stay up at the Wilson Museum till Oct. 3.

The brightly painted, flower-like sculptures of the late Roanoke native Dorothy Gillespie lead a trio of new in-person exhibitions on display inside the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University.

Gillespie was best known for her outdoor sculptures and public art — including works that can still be found at Radford University and inside Roanoke’s Center in the Square — “but she also created works for home viewing and private and personal personal collections, so we got a combination of those works,” said Laura Jane Ramsburg, the museum’s assistant director.

Anyone familiar with Gillespie’s career will instantly recognize her signature style, with vibrant-hued aluminum ribbons arranged in starbursts or bent so that they appear to flutter in a breeze.

Yet “Dorothy Gillespie: Tabletop Sculptures,” on display at the Wilson Museum through Oct. 3, offers some intriguing variations on the artist’s modus operandi, as she experimented with shapes and materials, sometimes in preparation for reproducing those experiments on a much larger scale.

Even when Gillespie was working small, “she was thinking about the bigger works,” Ramsburg said. “Some of the pieces say things like ‘sample’ on them.”

The artworks in the show come courtesy of the Dorothy M. Gillespie Foundation, directed by the artist’s son, Gary Israel, who after her death in 2012 devoted his life to preserving and promoting her legacy.

A 1937 graduate of Jefferson High School in Roanoke, Gillespie moved to New York to launch a successful art career that spanned decades, arguably reaching its apex in 2003 when, at age 83, she made 185 sculptures for a show called “Color, Light and Motion” that filled the plaza in front of New York’s Rockefeller Center.

Gillespie would have celebrated her 100th birthday in 2020. “Dorothy Gillespie: Tabletop Sculptures” was originally intended to be part of a centennial celebration of her career that would have spanned multiple states.

Those plans, set in motion by Israel, were derailed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the planned exhibitions have since proceeded piecemeal as the institutions involved became able to receive visitors again. The Wilson Museum reopened in June.

Though the museum intends to present a talk by Israel on Sept. 9, organizers are still working out whether the event will take place in person or virtually, Ramsburg said. Registration information for the event will be available at

The other Wilson Museum shows on display are:

“Dignified: Individuals with Alzheimer’s and Their Caregivers,” a deeply moving collection of black-and-white portraits by Richmond photographer and Roanoke native Patterson Lawson.

“Workers: Photographs by Yulandra Livingston ’14,” a series of casual snapshots and portraits focused on minority business owners in Roanoke taken by a graduate of Hollins who is also a longtime custodial employee.

At present the Wilson Museum is open by appointment only, with masks and proof of COVID-19 vaccination required. Admission is free. For more information, e-mail or visit

New Roanoke arts awards

The first ever “Back to Black” awards ceremony, a celebration of arts and culture in the Roanoke Valley’s Black community, will take place 7-9 p.m. Saturday at the Dumas Center, 108 Henry St. N.W. in Roanoke. Organizers say the event will shine a spotlight on achievements in music, visual arts, poetry, education, theater, literature and more. Masks required, all-black attire strongly recommended. Admission $15. For more information, visit

One-woman Showtimers show

Saturday and Sunday at 7 p.m., Showtimers Community Theatre veteran Stevie Holcomb will perform “Bella, Bella,” a play created by Broadway star Harvey Fierstein and based on the life of Bella Abzug, the pioneering New York lawyer and congresswoman. The show, which takes place in the Showtimers theater at 2067 McVitty Road S.W. in Roanoke, is directed by Linsee Lewis, another stalwart of the Roanoke Valley’s theater community. Admission $14. For more information, visit

Nutcracker auditions

Southwest Virginia Ballet will hold auditions from 2:30 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday for the nonprofit’s upcoming performance of the holiday staple “The Nutcracker.” Registration must be completed online at before hopeful denizens of the Land of Sweets arrive at Star City School of Ballet, Building 7, at 1005 Industry Ave. S.E. in Roanoke. The auditions are for ages 7-18. Dancers should arrive at 2 p.m., prior to the start of auditions. Masks are required.

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Mike Allen is the editorial page editor for The Roanoke Times. His past beats as a Roanoke Times reporter included Botetourt County, Franklin County, courts and legal issues, and arts and culture.

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