Work of the Week — “Chieftan’s Crest II” by Dorothy Gillespie

Monday, February 20, 2017

by Matt Gorga

"Chieftan's Crest II" by Dorothy GillespieDorothy Gillespie’s Chieftan’s Crest II is hard to miss. The vibrantly colored twists of metal resemble something you may see flowing blissfully with the current in an exotic coral reef. Her choice t0 use a medium like metal to create something that appears so colorful, light and delicate is a true testament to her ability as an artist to transform.

Dorothie Gillespie, born in Roanoke, VA in 1920, was an artist and sculptor known internationally for her abstract metal sculptural pieces. At the age of 23, she moved to New York City and took a job as an art director at department store. She soon joined the Art Students League where she was introduced to new and diverse artistic methods and ideas. Her career is marked by her transition from realism to abstraction around the mid 1950s, and it was this new direction where she found her stride. Her works are are found in many collections across the United States. One of her pieces, Colorfall, is nearly 40 feet tall and decorates the lobby of Wilmington’s Thalian Hall Center for the Performing Arts.

A number of years ago, my family and I took a trip to the Cayman Islands. I will never forget reluctantly plunging into cool waves, outfitted with rented snorkel gear and an underwater camera. I was more interested in sand castles and virgin pina coladas at this point, but when I got a glimpse of the underwater paradise that is a Caribbean coral reef, I was hooked. Looking at this sculpture, the nostalgia of that family trip as well as childhood innocence and exploration comes to me.

Perhaps it’s mostly the colors Gillespie chose in her enamel paint that remind me of the Caribbean. The ribbon-like strips of metal themselves bring up a vague memory of learning to wrap birthday presents… This is also a happy memory, for the most part… (my girlfriend still has to show me how to wrap presents).

The shine of the enamel gives the sculpture that extra pop. At first, I was actually wondering if it was glass. I guess it makes sense it is metal, considering the size of her works.

Photos don’t do it justice. Come check out this sculpture for yourself, and see what it brings up for you.

Artwork above: Dorothy Gillespie, Chieftan’s Crest II, 1989, metal  with enamel paint, 48 x 25 x 16 inches. Gift of John & Mary Pooley, Permanent Collection. 1999.04.33.