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Identifier: MC 1476

Dorothy Gillespie Papers


  • circa 1920-2015 and undated

Scope and Content Note

The Dorothy Gillespie Papers consist of approximately 14.25 cubic feet of materials, comprising of 14 record center cartons and 1 oversized box, spanning the period of circa 1950-2015. The collection is divided into nine series. The collection provides a detailed documentation of her artistic career, her involvement in professional artists' groups, and some of her philanthropic work.

The vast majority of the collection focuses on Dorothy Gillespie's professional life as an artist. ARTWORK AND EXHIBITION FILES and PUBLICATIONS documents Gillespie's various projects, the creation of artworks, and exhibitions as well as Gillespie's administrative involvement with the Women's Interart Center. Included in the ARTWORK AND EXHIBITION FILES series is Gillespie's extremely well documented Artist Inventory, in which she provided photographic documentation, titles, dates, exhibition history, and a unique identifying number for each artwork. It is unlikely that all artworks are represented this way, but the vast majority from 1980 onwards were recorded using this method. SLIDES, PHOTOGRAPS AND NEGATIVES, and VISUAL RECORDINGS provides visual documentation of her sculptures and paintings. Additionally, there are several photographs and VHS tapes of on site installations and exhibitions that she participated in. The CORRESPONDENCE series and the BIOGRAPHICAL series bridge the personal and professional. Gillespie wrote to curators, artists, and friends that were often a combination of the three and often for both professional and personal expression. BIOGRAPHICAL files similarly present Gillespie's personal writings and lifetime accomplishments that are both personal and professional.

Examples of Dorothy Gillespie's philanthropy can be found in LECTURES, EVENTS AND PHILANTHROPIC WORK. Gillespie donated her own artwork, artwork in her collection, and convinced others to donate artworks to start several University art collections that would help to serve the students studying to become artists, curators, and historians. Gillespie's personal life can be found in PHOTOGRAPHS AND NEGATIVES with pictures of Gillespie throughout her life, as well as images of the night club she and her husband owned in Greenwich Village in the 1950s. Of significant notice is the image of the portrait of Dorothy Gillespie by renowned modern master Alice Neel.

Additionally, the ARTWORK series contains small preparatory drawings, and sketchbooks by Dorothy Gillespie, as well as collected artwork.


14.25 Cubic Feet (14 record center cartons and 1 oversized box)

Language of Materials



Dorothy Gillespie was an artist, a feminist activist, and a philanthropist. Her artwork, except for a few early paintings and several happenings in the 1960s, was entirely abstract. Gillespie was influenced by Abstract Expressionism, Happenings, Pop Art, and Feminism. In the 1970s, she became involved in the Women's Interart Center, New York Professional Women Artists, and the Feminist Art Movement. She organized exhibitions, created a collection of women's art, compiled statistics, and took part in protests against galleries. The bright and fun style of her sculptural abstractions was a hallmark and created various public art opportunities for her in the 1980s. In the 1980s and 1990s, she donated many pieces from her own art collection, as well as her own artwork, to various universities in order to create university art collections. In the 1990s, Gillespie created smaller sculptures that were more accessible for beginning collectors. The collection documents her art production from roughly the early 1940s through 2010, her involvement in New York artists associations and galleries, her pioneer course that the New School for Social Research "Functioning in the Art World," correspondence between her and art institutions, and her public and commercial artworks.

Biographical Sketch

Dorothy Gillespie was born in Roanoke, Virginia on June 29, 1920. At the age of 5 Gillespie wanted to be an artist. The only artist she knew was Rosa Bonheur, whom she credits for the vast size of her early works. The collection houses a photograph of a "Yo Yo" quilt made when she was 11 years old. Her parents were unwilling at first to support this. As Virginia Rembert writes in one the Dorothy Gillespie Retrospective catalog texts, "'Nice' girls did not go to art school." However, a visit from the family minister changed her parents' mind when he declared that her gift was a God-given talent and should therefore be nurtured.

After attending the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, on June 5, 1943 (a date Gillespie remembered distinctly) she arrived in New York City. She continued to study art at the Art Student's League and at Atelier 17, a printmaking studio that emphasized experimentation. In 1946 she married Bernard Israel, and subsequently had three children. Sometime between the late 1940s and the early 1950s, she began painting in a completely gestural style, akin to the Abstract Expressionist movement.

In the 1950s, she and her family moved to Miami, FL. Gillespie secured group exhibitions and a solo exhibition at the Miami Museum of Art in 1962. Expansive canvases and gestural markings characterized her work. However, sexism played a part in the early narrative of Dorothy Gillespie's artwork. Critics and reviewers, largely labelled Dorothy Gillespie as a "lady painter," and "housewife painter." One critic, in writing to tell Gillespie he was sorry to miss her exhibition, also stated that he was glad she was not a "weekend painter." Certainly a sign of the times, her at once dismissal as an unserious female painter, and a declaration that she was not like "other" unserious women artists demonstrates a precarious balancing act of perceptions and roles. Later, she would label women artists, specifically southern women artists, as jugglers for this very reason.

In the mid-1960s, Gillespie and her family moved back to New York City. Her exhibitions at the Gallery Champagne and Gallery Gertrude Stein became immersive environments and her use of oil paint began to diminish as she experimented with paper, pastels, and acrylic. Her involvement in Gallery Champagne was most likely monumental. The Gillespie's owned Gallery Champagne, a champagne nightclub located in Greenwich Village and thus provided a space for Gillespie to display her art. While there are minimal records about the Gallery, there are over a dozen photographs depicting customers in the gallery/nightclub space.

The Women's Movement of the 1970s and feminism played a large role in Gillespie's life and art. In 1972 Dorothy Gillespie became an artist in resident at Women's Interart Center and from 1973-1976 she was co-director and facilitated exhibitions and collecting women's art. She also became a member of the group New York Professional Women Artists, which exhibited site-specific works together in the mid-1970s. Her paintings at this period evolved into sculptural abstractions, literally paintings coming off the wall, first in paper and then in aluminum.

During the late 1970s into the 1980s, Gillespie's work continued to evolve into brightly colored metal abstractions through her acceptance of public art projects. City Wall, in New York City and Roanoke, Virginia were her first public art commissions. Both were vast murals on the sides of buildings, in an abstract manner. Simultaneously, she also began to create site specific public works, and to experiment with group exhibitions held outside. One of her most interesting works hangs in the center of a parking garage in Orlando. The original piece was entitled Stairway to the Enchanted Castle. However, due to damage from hurricane Charlie, the piece was replaced with a mobile-like Celestial Joy. Visitors can see the sculpture in the round as they drive up and down the garage's ramp.

In the 1990s, Gillespie created smaller sculptures that were more accessible for beginning collectors. The sculptures were brightly colored twisting metal. Her aim was not to highlight travesties, to garner awareness, or make the viewer reflect on a philosophical abstract idea. She made beautiful objects to be enjoyed.

Dorothy Gillespie passed away in 2012.

Inventory to the Dorothy Gillespie Papers
Edited Full Draft
Stephanie Crawford and Dr. Fernanda Perrone
July 2017
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English.