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Dorothy Yepez: Gallery Without Walls

by Felicia D. Render

Dorothy R. Yepez, 1955
Dorothy R. Yepez, 1955

For our blog series, A Range of Experiences: Documenting African American Women’s History and Achievements, we are pleased to highlight the archival processing of the Dorothy R. Yepez papers. The Amistad Research Center (ARC) houses Yepez’s extensive files about her art gallery business along with documentation of her social and political life in New York. Dorothy Yepez (1916-1999) was an artist, gallery owner and teacher of violin and piano; owner of Dorothy Yepez Galleries for fifteen years in Saranac Lake, New York; and also worked in the area of children’s theater in New York City during the mid-1960s.

Most galleries and museums possess a home base from which to operate. For over 28 years, Dorothy Yepez Art Galleries showcased a full range of artistic forms of expression within the confines of a small, two-story gallery space on Bloomingdale Road in Saranac Lake, New York. Eventually, with the assistance of several museum professionals and individuals, Yepez extended the original gallery experience far beyond its historic area. Those individuals established Dorothy Yepez Gallery Without Walls, Inc., with shows ranging from modern sculpture, traditional American paintings, exhibition of dolls, art of children, and photographic prints. The purpose of the gallery-museum was to “promote education and culture in art by means of exhibitions, lectures, classes, radio television, cinema, discussions, and any other available media; to bring artist and public together; and to encourage experimentation in all media.” [sic]

Brochure of Dorothy Yepez Gallery Without Walls, Inc., undated
Brochure of Dorothy Yepez Gallery Without Walls, Inc., undated

Yepez was a Philadelphian by birth, a New Yorker by adoption. Dorothy Elizabeth Yepez (née Robinson) was born in 1916 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Amos N. Robinson and Alice Delgado. She attended University of Pennsylvania School of Social Work; Temple University School of Music; New York University Cooper Union City; Queens and Brooklyn Colleges in New York; and studied art with Richard Colin and Alfred Crimi. On September 10, 1948, Dorothy E. Robinson married Bolivar Yepez.

Many of Yepez’s contributions to African American women’s history centered around her civic, political, philanthropic and social activities. As a reverend, she was actively involved in the United Ministries in Higher Education, serving as a member of the Black Arena Committee (1973). Yepez worked on the Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr. political campaign and served as a member of the American Federation of Arts and Brooklyn American Society.

The papers primarily document the career of Dorothy R. Yepez, and significantly highlight the contributions of an African American business woman and art gallery owner in the United States. The collection is extremely rich on the subjects of art, Black history, education and the business documentation of Yepez’s career, with collected files from her art gallery and social activities. Yepez’s papers contain business and some personal correspondence; biographical sketches of Yepez and artists who exhibited at the Dorothy Yepez Galleries; announcements; news clippings; forms and questionnaires; invitations; news releases; reports; and advertisements and publicity notices pertaining to events at the Galleries. In addition, there is a scrapbook, dating from 1940 to 1946, which includes items pertaining to the social and philanthropic activities of Yepez during World War II.

Dorothy R. Yepez, circa 1955
Dorothy R. Yepez, circa 1955

Of interest is an autographed photograph of Duke Ellington addressed to Dorothy Yepez (circa 1966, undated); programs and brochures from children’s theater activities, including an extensive number of greeting cards (1965-1969); information regarding Harlem Health Council (1966); and other programs (1955-1966). Also of note are Yepez’s family photographs (1890-1940s); Yepez’s high school diploma (1934 June); and numerous files on community activities in which Yepez was involved, including Career Club (1959-1964); Arts Center Committee, Henry Street Settlement (1963-1965); Council of the Arts (1964-1965); and files regarding her membership on the executive board of Harlem Health Council (1966-1967). The bulk of the papers are art gallery files, including business correspondence. Additionally, the papers contain a unique ephemeral item, a rock for the Urban Renewal Project with a hand script note stating “Spring 1974 Edythes House was here Urban Renewal 1974.” Edythe was Yepez’s sister.

Amistad is honored to preserve the Dorothy R. Yepez papers. In essence, her art-filled legacy will extend beyond gallery walls and will provide additional access to African American women’s materials.

Institute of Museum and Library Services

This project was made possible in part by the Institute of Museum and Library Services [MH-245560-OMS-20]. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post do not necessarily represent those of the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

If you would like to support the funding of ARC’s Women’s Project please donate via Amistad’s Network for Good.

Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.


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