Inspiration is Everywhere for Sunderland Artists

Alison Bennie

“If you truly love nature, you will find beauty everywhere” - Vincent Van Gogh

I am convinced that the natural beauty surrounding the small town of Sunderland is why so many artists call it home. Numerous talented artists can be found here—complete with home studios, downtown in the village, and scattered around the town’s outer edges. The North Durham area usually hosts a Fall Studio Tour, but COVID-19 put that on hold last fall. Traditionally, visitors were issued a map marked with each studio’s location, and you could drive around to each one while enjoying the beautiful fall colours in this area. I loved going on the tour as it gave me a glimpse into the lives of each artist. You could view and purchase their work, as well as get to know them one-on-one. In 2020 the tour went virtual, but will hopefully return with physical studio visits in the near future. One thing remains true: Despite quarantine protocols and other challenges, the Sunderland artists are still working and creating. While it is best to contact them individually before a visit, here are a few artists I am familiar with:

Walter Campbell is a well-known painter residing in town. Through his intricately detailed watercolour originals, his images evoke sweet nostalgic memories. His Gingerbread Collection of artwork, lovingly crafted over three decades, is a tribute to families throughout the generations. The paintings tell stories of everything from weddings to Christmas parties, to skating on the pond. His other paintings capture memories like maple sugaring, fishing on a misty summer’s morn, the family trip to the general store, and kids playing in the pumpkin patch or with the freshly fallen snow. Walter’s painted stories will warm the hearts of all generations, weaving memories from days gone by to modern times. Walter is multi-talented; he’s also a musician/singer and could be found (before COVID) performing at various open mics in the area. Here’s hoping his live performances happen again soon.

Lynda Cunningham is definitely one of my favourite artists in the area and one of my favourite characters. Her incredible painting style, coupled with her rural lifestyle, makes for interesting coffee chats. Lynda Cunningham’s oil paintings reflect the scenes of rural Ontario and its domestic farm animals. Visiting Lynda’s farm is like visiting a small petting zoo. Depending on the time of year, I have been lucky enough to help feed baby goats, cuddle baby sheep, or just pat the giant Belgians she has in the paddock. I have been at her studio when she’s had a “house lamb,” which means she’s taken in a newly born lamb or sometimes a “kid” (baby goat) who isn’t being looked after by their mother, and it then lives in her house for warmth and regular feedings—(I think it’s just an excuse because they’re so darn cute and cuddly! I mean, seriously, WHO wouldn’t want one for their own?!). The goats keep me laughing; they are definitely the clowns of the barnyard. And “yes,” I do own three goat paintings by her! Natural settings inspire Lynda’s paintings: The timbers and fieldstone of a barn, horses in harness, and sheep in the winter looking for some extra warmth. When you visit Lynda Cunningham’s studio, you will see it is the perfect combination of rural farm and artist studio.

While dropping in for a coffee (and to see the baby goats) at Lynda’s one day, I was lucky enough to meet the next artist, Carmel Brennan. She is an extremely accomplished photographer, painter, teacher and writer. Carmel says her camera is a sketchbook for documenting life and has worked as a professional photographer since 1971. She has been a teacher of Visual Arts for over 40 years. Because Carmel enjoys dealing with art, artists and creative people, she has involved herself in various arts organizations and societies, and was President of the Ontario Society of Artists from 2010 to 2013. Her photography, painting and printmaking have been exhibited in various commercial and public galleries. Tucked away in the quiet village, Carmel Brennan’s studio is filled with an outstanding collection of photography and paintings. If you would like to arrange a tour of Carmel’s studio, purchase a piece of work, or request a custom commission piece, contact her directly through her website (, by email at, or by phone at 416-931-5732.

Fabric sculpture by Anja Kooistra, one of the Sunderland artists
Fabric sculpture by Anja Kooistra, one of the Sunderland artists

Another favourite of mine is Rolling Hills Studio, belonging to the very talented Anja Kooistra. Her studio gallery is like a trip into a magical land filled with magical creatures. Anja is a fabric and mixed media artist. She often focuses on the female form and nature, incorporating it into her work. I adore her fairies and her birds, each one different than the next. She also holds fabric sculpture workshops, and you can make your own beautiful sculpture to take home. Two of my friends attended a workshop with her, each returning with a seated female garden figure sculpture that they made from old T-shirts and Powertex fabric hardener. The sculptures are now decorating their gardens. The completed pieces were so beautiful and my friends couldn’t believe that they had actually produced them. The fabric hardener she uses is non-toxic and environmentally friendly, and is available to purchase at her studio. I’m sure once you start on a journey to make one of these sculptures, you’ll find yourself wanting to create more. Prior to the latest quarantine measures, Anja was still holding these workshops, adhering to all COVID protocol. Check back via her website once measures have been lifted.

Reworked gold and diamond ring by Monique van Wel, one of the featured Sunderland Artists
Reworked gold and diamond ring by Monique van Wel

Art is not just painting and sculptures. It comes in many forms–Monique van Wel is a Goldsmith/Designer who specializes in re-designing old heirloom jewelry in her studio just outside town. She told me that many people have old or family jewelry that they have kept in a box or drawer for years and that there are usually important memories attached to these pieces. She likes to encourage them to get these pieces out of the box and make them come alive again with a unique design. People tend to talk about the stories and emotions connected to each piece after the re-design, and she feels these stories are meaningful to each individual. You can call or text Monique at her studio 416-660-5853 or see some of her handcrafted designs at

Sheryl Bunting is a glass artist living in town. She also studied volcanology at the University of Toronto. She has always been intrigued by the structure and chemistry of the Earth, and its rocks. Much of her recreational time has been spent canoeing and backcountry camping. She is inspired by the natural environment’s calming effect, how simple shapes can mimic movement, and how colours affect human emotion. The beauty of glass has always captured her imagination because it is one of those magic materials that is invisibly transparent until you add the intensity of colour. She loves how stained glass’s beauty is ever-changing with the reflection and refraction of light, and is always seeking innovative ways of transforming this ancient art form into a contemporary one. View some of the beautiful pieces she has created and to contact her.

Joan Yerema and Jay Yerema-Weafer (a mother/daughter painting duo) also call the charming town of Sunderland home. They have been actively involved with the local art scene for many years. Together, they operated ‘The Magic Door Art Gallery,’ which exhibited local, national and international artists for almost thirteen years. Their paintings hang in both public and private collections, and have been exhibited in Canada, the USA and Europe. Joan has been drawing and painting since childhood, but essentially is a self-taught artist who mastered both traditional and non-traditional mediums through extensive exploration and trial. After retiring from a successful Nursing career, she fulfilled one of her artistic dreams by studying at the Isabell O’Neil Studio & School for the Art of the Painted Finish in New York City, which further illuminated her work and the three-dimensional world became her canvas too.

Jay’s lifelong passion is to continuously develop as an artist, which has shaped her creative journey. She is a graduate of the Ontario College of Art & Design (OCAD) and expanded upon her formal education by moving to Florence, Italy. That essential chapter in her life significantly influences her style, which can be described as classical realism combined with contemporary experimentation. While living and painting in Italy, both Joan and Jay were intrigued by the fact that many famous Renaissance works attributed to only one Master had actually been created by a number of talented individuals. They often joked that Jay had been her mother’s artistic apprentice during her childhood because they worked on so many projects together. However, while in Florence, they began viewing their unique connection from another perspective, which ultimately inspired them to start blending their separate brushstrokes to create one masterpiece… and the rest, as they say, is history. These are definitely strange times, but the two feel thankful for the slower pace and extra time in isolation to paint together. If you would like to learn more about Jay & Joan’s studio, purchase a piece of work, or request a custom commission piece, contact them directly by email at

Francis Muscat, yet another Sunderland area artist, is a multi-media sculptor with a passion for glass. His work is figurative, architectural and whimsical. I find his pieces just so beautiful. Francis loves to make things, loves to experiment, and loves exploring the relationships of material. You’ll be mesmerized by the art and beauty that surrounds your walk up to the entrance of his studio. Francis welcomes guests to view his work both indoors and outdoors at his studio/gallery. All tours are by appointment only. If you would like to arrange a tour of Francis’s studio, purchase a piece of work, or request a commission piece, contact Francis directly through his website ( /, by email at, or by giving him a call at 416-557-0257.

Rooster painting by Lianne Megarry
Rooster painting by Lianne Megarry

And finally, I can’t forget to mention the lovely Lianne Megarry (photographer, mixed media artist and painter) and equestrian fanatic. I also own two of Lianne’s acrylic paintings because I love her use of colour and find her work “fun.” She hasn’t had much time to paint lately because she’s always with her horses (another story for another time), but has most recently been doing furniture recreation; taking beautiful (and not so beautiful) old furniture and transforming it using Fusion mineral paints. As Lianne says, “when you take old furniture and re-create it, you get something that is twice the quality for half the price! Home hobbyists stuck at home due to COVID have been very, very busy,” she tells me. The Fusion paint is literally flying off the shelves. She misses teaching the classes on this but will gladly answer any of your questions by phone or message. Her studio in downtown Sunderland, called The Dark Horse, is currently closed, but no-contact porch pick up by appointment can be arranged to purchase the Fusion paint or works of art at 705-357-3111.

NOTE: At the time of publishing, Durham Region is in a province-wide shutdown with extensive measures in place to stop the spread of COVID-19. Residents are encouraged to stay at home with exception to essential trips, wash hands frequently, wear a mask and physically distance from others.

We continue to publish these stories to encourage you to explore these businesses and communities online and through social media. When possible, please order for safe curbside pick-up if offered, and prepare to explore these areas once they are able to safely reopen.