PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — The Peoria Riverfront Museum hosted a tribute for the late Nita Sunderland, a sculptor and Bradley University professor emerita, on Friday.

Sunderland was born in Newton, Illinois, on November 9, 1927 and passed away July 17, 2020 in East Peoria. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this is the first time her loved ones have been able to honor her.

The room was filled with laughter, tears and some of Sunderland’s work. People shared fond memories of Sunderland describing her as a strong woman who was unapologetically herself.

“Nita was a woman artist working in heavy materials like bronze and concrete. Starting in the 50s, at a time when women just were not accepted as being artists. And certainly not working on the scale that she did working with the heavy materials. Throughout her life she was met with men saying, ‘You can’t do that.’ And in fact, she knew better than they did,” said Director of Illinois Women Artists Project Kristan H. McKinsey.

The Peoria Riverfront Museum has launched The Nita Sunderland Memorial Fund which will support the acquisition and care of sculpture at the museum.