Gala brings patrons and fine art to campus
For the second Valentine’s Day in a row, benefactors sent a love note to Radford University at Give Your Heart to Art, a formal evening of socializing and celebrating the university’s rich arts tradition, all to benefit its permanent art collection.
This year’s Radford University Arts Society event was dedicated to the memory of renowned painter and sculptor Dorothy Gillespie, RU Distinguished Professor of the Arts. Gillespie, who died in October at age 92, made clear through words and actions through her long career that her heart belonged to Radford.
Her sculptures adorned dinner tables at the Feb. 14 benefit, and a documentary by filmmaker and friend Gerry McCarthy ‘93 described Gillespie’s legacy to the guests and explained how the arts community still feels her influence.
From Roanoke to the world
Gillespie was born in Roanoke in 1920. From an early age, she had the gift of seeing the world through an artist’s eyes, remembering specific colors and details vividly. Her early ambition was to study art after high school and go to New York City, a place she had heard about on the radio.
McCarthy’s documentary “Dorothy Gillespie: Creating Magic with Color” tells the story of how Gillespie’s parents objected to the idea of an art career for their daughter. Their wish was for her to attend what was then the State Teachers College at Radford and to become a schoolteacher. They asked their preacher to convince her that Radford was the right choice. To their surprise, the pastor instead encouraged the young woman to follow her dream and explore her God-given artistic talent.
Gillespie did so, traveling first to the Maryland Institute of Art in Baltimore and eventually reaching New York, where she found her place in its vibrant arts community. Through the years, she always came home to Roanoke and Radford, McCarthy said. It was during one of these trips home, in the early 1980s, that she and he met.
“Dorothy was going to be here, so I crashed the party and introduced myself,” McCarthy said. “We became fast friends.”
Over the next 30 years, the two worked together on four documentaries about her life, work and origins. “She never lost her affection for Southwest Virginia,” McCarthy said.
One of the ways she showed that affection was by getting involved with Radford University’s arts program. She volunteered to teach students in Radford’s classrooms and studios, and she launched a campaign to build a top-of-the-line gallery on campus and to establish a permanent collection of art by the world’s greatest artists.