Unidentified photographer, Dorothy Gillespie outside the Maryland Institute College of Art, ca. 1939. Courtesy estate of the artist.
Dorothy Gillespie, Dancers, 1944. Oil on canvas, 38 x 44 in. Courtesy estate of the artist.

38. Dorothy Gillespie

Life Dates1920-2012
Place of BirthRoanoke, VA, USA
Place of DeathCoral Gable, FL, USA
Birth NameDorothy Gillespie

Dorothy Gillespie was born in Roanoke, Virginia, and had aspirations to become an artist from an early age, despite her parents’ wishes she follow a more conventional path of teaching.1 A precocious child, she read the encyclopedia—where she first discovered Rosa Bonheur and a black-and-white illustration of *The Horse Fair*—and won a citywide children’s art competition at the age of eleven. Between 1938 and 1941, she enrolled at the Maryland Institute of Art where she had training in both commercial and fine arts. In 1943, Gillespie moved to New York City to take a position as Assistant Ad Designer for the department store B. Altman and Company, but she simultaneously pursued further art studies at the Art Students League, Clay Club, and Atelier 17 (her first apartment was, in fact, not far away on East Eighth Street). Although prints from this period have not yet surfaced, her time at Atelier 17 was likely significant. In his foreword to Gillespie’s 1962 solo exhibition at the Miami Museum of Modern Art, president Bernard Davis wrote, “we believe that Hayter and his associates became a dominant factor in Dorothy Gillespie’s work.”2 During these formative years in New York, she was transitioning towards full abstraction, and the tangled web of lines in her pen and ink drawings suggest the possible influence of Hayter’s teachings about line’s three-dimensionality. Gillespie married Bernard Israel in 1946 and, together, the couple had three children between 1947 and 1956. They lived for periods in Miami, Florida, and Lima, Peru, before returning to New York permanently in 1963. Gillespie is best known for her mural-scale paintings, wall paintings, painted aluminum sculptures, and activism during the women’s art movement.


Dorothy Gillespie Papers, Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries

Selected Bibliography

Arbury, Steve. “Dorothy Gillespie: Reflections of a Joyful Adventure.” Woman’s Art Journal 37, no. 1 (Spring 2016): 21–28.

Lallier, Alexandra de. “The Shape of Festivity.” Woman’s Art Journal 3, no. 2 (Autumn 1982): 49–54.

Rowland, Creelman, ed. Dorothy Gillespie. Miami: Miami Museum of Modern Art, 1962.


  1. Thank you to Gillespie’s son, Gary Israel, for generously and enthusiastically sharing information about his mother’s.
  2. Creelman Rowland, ed., Dorothy Gillespie (Miami: Miami Museum of Modern Art, 1962), 5.