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Arts & Extras: Taubman to reopen in time to share Gillespie shows

Arts & Extras: Taubman to reopen in time to share Gillespie shows

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The Dorothy Gillespie Centennial exhibitions in the Taubman Museum of Art are going to be open to visitors after all.

The Roanoke art museum plans to reopen July 3, with strict social distancing measures in place as required by state guidelines.

Instead of distributing gallery guides, the museum will offer QR codes for visitors to scan with their cellphones, and maps will be reproduced large on walls instead of printed as handouts. The upstairs galleries will be cordoned so that attendees follow a single file path through the exhibitions. A sneeze guard cut in the curves of a mountain landscape will protect workers and volunteers at the front desk.

The art museum received one of the paycheck protection program loans created as part of the federal stimulus package, which has made it possible to refill part-time jobs that were eliminated when the pandemic-related shutdown began, said Taubman Executive Director Cindy Petersen.

Though Art Venture will remain closed, the museum will provide activity kits for children that are complimentary to members and pay-as-you-will for nonmembers.

The museum will only be open Fridays through Sundays until further notice, Petersen said. Admission remains free.

For three of those three-day weekends, “Celestial Centennial: The Art and Legacy of Dorothy Gillespie,” will still be on display. It closes July 26.

Roanoke-born artist Gillespie, who died in 2012, would have turned 100 this year. A 1938 graduate of Jefferson High School, Gillespie enrolled in an art college against her parents’ wishes, a choice that resulted in a decades-long art career that culminated in a 2003 installation of 185 sculptures in New York’s Rockefeller Center — a show she created when she was 83.

The museum’s description of “Celestial Centennial” asserts that Gillespie “remains the most nationally recognized artist who was born and raised in the Roanoke Valley.”

Drawn from the art collection of the Radford University Art Museum — a collection Gillespie helped found while she taught there — “Celestial Centennial” showcases not just the brightly painted sculptures cut into aluminum ribbons that brought Gillespie nationwide fame, but early abstract paintings and works on paper.

One of her sons, Gary Israel, president of the Dorothy M. Gillespie Foundation, has been working to organize a multi-state centennial celebration of his mother’s art. The shutdowns intended to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus caused portions of that massive project to be canceled or delayed, including the Taubman’s shows.

A companion exhibition at the Roanoke museum, “Dorothy Gillespie: Still Enchanting Virginia’s Blue Ridge,” draws from private collections in the region, and will stay open through Nov. 8. A smaller additional display, “Welcome to Dorothy’s World,” includes a vibrant portrait of Gillespie and artifacts from her New York studio.

Adding a layer of poignancy, the Gillespie exhibitions at the Taubman were the last to be curated by the late Patrick Shaw Cable. A native of Asheville, North Carolina, Cable joined the Taubman staff in September 2018 as chief curator and head of the museum’s education department. In mid-April, the 53-year-old died unexpectedly from a heart attack.

“I still can hear his voice as he talked about that color and shape and the juxtaposition of the 3-D elements with the flat paintings,” Petersen said. In the hallway between the galleries, it’s possible to peer into all three exhibitions at once in a way that lets the viewer take in Gillespie’s full range as an artist in a single glance, an effect Cable deliberately strove for.

The Taubman will begin a search for Cable’s replacement in the upcoming weeks, Petersen said.

In the meantime, the museum will work with guest curators on upcoming exhibitions, several of which will use selections from the Taubman’s own permanent collection.

One of the upcoming exhibitions will share historic photographs from the collection of Walter and Sally Rugaber, curated by Jenine Culligan, director of the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins University. The Wilson Museum first exhibited photos from that collection in 2019. Many of the images document life during the Great Depression. Walter Rugaber is a retired publisher of The Roanoke Times.

“We’ll be doing virtual field trips for the schools and for the universities,” Petersen said, a prospect the Rugabers have expressed excitement over. “It gives an opportunity to have a wider reach.”

A virtual tour of the Gillespie exhibitions is also in the works.

For more information, call 342-5760 or visit

Photos: Taubman Museum of Art set to reopen in Roanoke

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Mike Allen covers government happenings in Franklin County and Botetourt County for The Roanoke Times and also writes the weekly Arts & Extras column.

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