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New Digital Collection: Dorothy Gillespie Papers

July 1, 2020
Promotional graphic for Dorothy Gillespie papers

Dorothy Gillespie (1920–2012) was an abstract sculptor and painter whose archives are part of the Miriam Schapiro Archives on Women Artists at Special Collections and University Archives.

The first phase of the Dorothy Gillespie Papers digitization project is now completed and ready to be used by researchers through our digital collection portal.

Dorothy Gillespie (1920–2012) was an abstract sculptor and painter whose archives are part of the Miriam Schapiro Archives on Women Artists at Special Collections and University Archives. Born in Roanoke, Virginia on June 29, she attended the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore. Moving to New York City in 1943, she continued her studies at the Art Students League and at Atelier 17, a printmaking studio that emphasized experimentation. In 1946, she married Bernard Israel, and subsequently had three children. Soon afterwards, she began painting in a completely gestural style influenced by Abstract Expressionism. In the 1950s, she and her family moved to Miami, Florida, where she secured group exhibitions and a solo exhibition at the Miami Museum of Art in 1962. As a young married woman, Gillespie encountered discrimination in the art world, finding herself labeled a “housewife painter.” These early experiences helped raise her consciousness as a feminist.

In the mid-1960s, Gillespie and her family moved back to New York City. Gillespie’s use of oil paint began to diminish as she experimented with paper, pastels, and acrylic. The Gillespies owned Gallery Champagne, a champagne nightclub located in Greenwich Village, which provided a space for Gillespie to display her art. In the 1970s, Gillespie became involved in 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 whimsical style of her sculptures 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.

Since her death in 2012, her son Gary Israel has been dedicated to preserving her legacy. This digital project, which foregrounds a selection of images of Gillespie’s work, was made possible by a generous gift from the Dorothy M. Gillespie Foundation. The donation funded two students from the Douglass Residential College, Talia Lang and Ana Couto Barbosa, to scan and create metadata for the images in Summer 2019.

Couto was inspired by the project to pursue a degree in library science: she will begin the Master of Information program at Rutgers in September. “During this experience, I learned about digitization, metadata, archival standards, and the importance of information organization. The internship opened my eyes to the vastness of library science and its career opportunities,” she said.

The Dorothy Gillespie digitization project will resume next summer.