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Nita K. Sunderland

November 9, 1927 July 17, 2020
Nita K. Sunderland
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Obituary for Nita K. Sunderland

Nita K. Sunderland, 92, American sculptor, died July 17, 2020 at Generations at Riverview in East Peoria.

Nita was born November 9, 1927, in Newton, Illinois, to parents Sarah (Taylor) Sunderland and Glenn H. Sunderland. She grew up in Newton, and continued her education in Norton, Mass, where she graduated from House in the Pines junior college in 1947. There she developed impressive equestrian skills and became captain of the school’s Riding Club. She briefly taught physical education at Lancaster Country Day School in Lancaster, PA, before resuming her education. She studied art at Duke University before transferring to Bradley University, where she received her BFA in 1952. Nita taught art at the University of Michoacan, Mexico, from 1953 to 1954. She received her Masters degree in ceramics from Bradley University in 1955 and joined the Bradley faculty a year later. As one of the first woman college sculpture instructors in the United States, Nita was constantly breaking the glass ceiling throughout her career. She taught sculpture, drawing, and 3-D design at Bradley until she retired as a Professor Emeritus in 1988.

Nita is known for her mostly large-scale works of sculpture carved from Indiana limestone or cast in bronze. Her artwork often expressed themes of masked emotions as well as historical and contemporary restrictions on women’s freedom and equality. Many of her works are in private collections in the Peoria and Chicago areas, and many grace public spaces such as the Peoria Civic Center, Peoria Methodist Medical Center, Illinois State University, Peoria Riverfront Museum, Bradley University, and former Chicago locations including the Federal Plaza and Millenium Park.

Nita’s work has been exhibited nationally and internationally and has been featured in local exhibitions including Lakeview Museum in 1964 and 1995 as well as a retrospective at Riverview Museum in 2016.

In 1986 Nita formed a sculpture restoration business with family and colleagues and performed invaluable restoration work on many public monuments in central Illinois and Indiana, including the Civil War Memorial in downtown Peoria. Nita also devoted many volunteer hours helping to restore grave markers at Peoria’s historic Springdale Cemetery, and she served on the board of Tri-County WomenStrength in Peoria (now the Center for Prevention of Abuse) from 1989 to 1995.

Nita will be remembered for her passionate devotion to her art, her dedication to her students, her service to her community, her love of family, and her compassion for all living creatures, especially the many Airedale dogs she rescued as pets through the years.

Nita is survived by her dearest friend and longtime colleague Beth Linn, her nephews John Sunderland (Libby Hillis) of Mazama, Washington, and Bill Sunderland (Krista) of Champaign, Illinois, as well as great-nieces Gloria Sunderland and Sara Sunderland of Champaign. She was preceded in death by her parents and her brother, Glenn W. Sunderland.

A memorial service for Nita will be announced at a future date.

In lieu of flowers, charitable contributions may be made to Bradley University Department of Art, to the Center for Prevention of Abuse, and Susan G. Komen.

Friends and family may sign the online guestbook or send private condolences by logging onto www.wrightandsalmon.com.

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