The newly opened Melrose Branch Library adds new books, new computers, a teen center, a STEAM lab, a community meeting room and more to Northwest Roanoke’s public offerings.

It also adds two large works by the late Roanoke-born artist Dorothy Gillespie to the city’s art collection.

Gillespie created thousands of colorful abstract aluminum sculptures in her New York studio before her death in 2012 at age 92. Resembling ribbons and starbursts, her works are familiar sights inside Center in the Square, Jefferson Center and the Roanoke City Market Building.

Her son, Gary Israel, 69, works to preserve his mother’s artistic legacy as president of the New York-based Dorothy M. Gillespie Foundation, by creating scholarships and internships for aspiring artists, and by organizing new displays of Gillespie’s creations. He donated the pieces now mounted on the walls in the Melrose library.

Roanoke Mayor Sherman Lea said it was important for children to know about prominent artists with ties to the community. “Thank you so much,” he said to Israel during Monday’s ribbon-cutting ceremony at the new branch.

Israel thanked Lea in return and mentioned that next year there will be a celebration of Gillespie’s career in the Roanoke Valley and beyond in honor of her 100th birthday. “Now we have another stop.”

One set of four panels covered in bright aluminum that evokes a towering waterfall — appropriately named “Color Fall” — rises almost to the ceiling in a corner beside the banks of computers. An electrical outlet had to be relocated to make room for the art.

“My mother commissioned it for this collector in their Dallas home,” Israel said. “All the homes in Dallas are huge.” A photo accompanying the sculpture shows how “Color Fall” appeared in the space it was originally designed for.

He removed one of the ribbon-like clusters of cascading color to show how his mother had numbered the various pieces and panels so that the sculpture could be easily disassembled and properly put back together.

Another set of three tall, flat panels adorns the wall across from the checkout desk. These were part of Gillespie’s epic 185-piece outdoor installation “Color, Light and Motion” that filled the plaza in front of New York’s Rockefeller Center in 2003, when the artist was 83.

“The use of color is just amazing,” said City Libraries Director Sheila Umberger. “It ties in with the imagination, the creativity that a library fosters.” When children come to a library, “if it’s fun and they’re creative, then they’re going to become lifelong learners.”

Israel frequently travels from New York to Roanoke, and throughout the country, meeting with art collectors and museum and university officials. He’ll be making many more trips in preparation for the centennial exhibitions showcasing his mother’s art.

The first one in Southwest Virginia will open Sept. 21 in the Radford University Art Museum’s Covington Center and last through Dec. 6. The Radford museum has about 90 pieces by Gillespie in its collection.

The Taubman Museum of Art plans to hold its retrospective exhibition starting in April 2020, working with the Radford museum, the Eleanor D. Wilson Museum at Hollins and Roanoke College’s Olin Galleries. “There’s going to be a celebration of Dorothy Gillespie throughout the museum,” said Taubman Executive Director Cindy Petersen.

Roanoke commissioned a set of outdoor sculptures from Boston artist Napoleon Jones-Henderson for the new library branch patio. They weren’t completed in time for the grand opening, said retiring Roanoke arts and culture coordinator Susan Jennings, but they are still in progress. “The panels are finished but the frames are not,” she said.

Off the Rails auditions

Off the Rails Theatre in Roanoke has put out a call for auditions for “The Thanksgiving Play” by Larissa FastHorse, a politically charged comedy in which a pair of third grade teachers and their friends try to come up with a pageant that accommodates both the American Thanksgiving holiday and Native American Heritage Month. The auditions will be held Sept. 12, 6:30 p.m., and Sept. 14, 2 p.m., at Community High School, 302 Campbell Ave. S.E. in Roanoke. The play will be performed in the school’s June M. McBroom Theatre from Nov. 1 through Nov. 9. Roanoke College theater professor Nelson Barre will direct. For more information, call 676-1415.

Mike Allen writes the Arts & Extras column for The Roanoke Times. The beat he covers includes visual art, classical music, opera, theater, dance, literature, museums and other arts and cultural nonprofits, and things even more eclectic.

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