With Muiriel Checkeris’s enthusiastic and energetic leadership, a group of visual artists and craftspeople, who became known as the Northern Artists Gallery, conceived the idea of Artists on Elgin.
For almost a decade, they have watched the gallery shop at 168 Elgin St. grow to become a successful enterprise. In addition to showcasing some of the city’s talented artists, the shop has helped to revitalize downtown Sudbury.
Th4 2014 Community Builders’ Award winner for the Arts is one of the people who helped to soften the edges of a mining town by contributing to the cultural scene over many decades.
“Muiriel’s talent, creativity and energy extend well beyond her beautiful pottery. Her contribution to building and strengthening Sudbury’s arts community has left a lasting legacy with the Northern Artists Gallery and Artists on Elgin. I am so proud to call Muiriel a friend,” says Vicki Rideout Kett.
In 1964, Checkeris moved to Sudbury from Scotland with her first husband. The mother of four got involved in her new community. In 1980, when she was unhappy about school board decisions, she ran for trustee and served on the English public school board for the next 22 years. She was board chair for one three-year term.
A talented potter, Checkeris was one of the founding members of the Sudbury Basin Potters.
She was an active volunteer with the Laurentian Museum and Art Centre (LUMAC) where her contributions went beyond support for the arts. She was one of the gardeners who tended to the Bell Mansion gardens. In 1997, when the gallery was incorporated as the Art Gallery of Sudbury, Checkeris served a three-year term on the board and chaired the board for one year.
She was an original member of the Sudbury Craft and Arts Foundation (SCARF), the organization that ran The Attic gift shop at the Art Gallery of Sudbury and later in the downtown mall.
When The Attic closed in 2000, there were very few places in the city where artists could show and sell their work.
Early in 2004, Checkeris was encouraged by Jane Cameron, the owner of Sudbury Paint and Custom Framing, to look at an empty shop on Elgin St. Cameron offered to donate the space for a trial period to a group of artists. Checkeris, with the support of Northern Artists Gallery members, established Artists on Elgin.
“The success of Artists on Elgin is in big part do to the volunteers, support from the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund, as well as FedNor, the Sudbury Community Foundation, the City of Greater Sudbury and recently a grant from the Trillium Foundation,” says Checkeris.
The gallery represents more than 50 artists from Sudbury, Manitoulin Island and Sault Ste. Marie. These include painters, sculptors, glass workers, potters, jewelry makers and textile artists. Their juried work is shown at the shop as well as displayed at Science North and Tom Davies Square.
The gallery is staffed by volunteers and is open Monday through Saturday.
In the last seven years, the Northern Artist Gallery, with the support of Northern Life, Vale, CTV and the Freshwater Ecology Unit has sponsored The Picture Our Lakes photograph competition. Winning entries are featured in a calendar which is a major fundraiser for Artists on Elgin.
In 2011 and 2013, the Northern Artist Gallery, with Checkeris’s leadership, organized the Art Impact juried shows for all Northern Ontario artists at the Vale Living with Lakes Centre.
“Muiriel embodies everything a Community Builder should be,” says Angie Robson, manager of corporate affairs for Vale, Ontario operations. Vale is a frequent sponsor of Northern Artist Gallery initiatives.
“Her passion for the artists, matched by her passion for the community, has made a positive and lasting impact on our city.”
Artist Ivan Wheale says, “Muiriel’s dedication to Artists on Elgin has always been outstanding and will be a tough act to follow…Simply put, I cannot think of a better person to receive this award and the accolades, which are most deserving.”
With files from Paddy O’Sullivan