This extensive collection of photo galleries is provided as a means of introducing students to Jon Sundell and to countries and cultures that may be included in his programs. In a general way they give a sense of the tremendous richness of those cultures, whetting the appetite with a kind of visual feast. They can also be used in a more focused manner by having students compare and contrast specific elements like forms of work; play; music, dance and other traditions; housing and other buildings; religion; and ecosystems. The crafts gallery can be included in this exercise as well as country galleries. Older students can examine the photos of Guatemala, El Salvador, and Nicaragua - countries that Jon visited with the goal of learning about and helping with social problems - to get a glimpse into the troubled history of Central America which textbooks tend to gloss over. After the program these galleries can form a starting or reference point for further exploration in both non-fiction research and reading of fictional works.

For teachers and administrators of prospective schools the galleries as a whole serve to demonstrate the extent of Jon Sundell's personal experience with varied countries and cultures. However, it should be noted that, in this regard, they still fall short, since his year-long residence in Europe, in-depth studies of Asia, and experiences with various cultures in the United States are still missing. For a full overview, take a look at the Multicultural Connections page. And in regard to his Appalachian experiences, check out the Publications page, where you can read a profile or two from his book, Stay with Us: Visiting with Old Time Singers and Storytellers in the Southern Mountains. This also provides an introduction to his programs on North Carolina and others presenting traditional folk songs and tales.

The galleries included below are:

  • Mixed Photo Gallery
  • Square Dancing
  • Crafts for Multicultural Programs
  • Japan
  • Central America - Guatemala
  • Central America - El Salvador
  • Central America - Nicaragua
  • Central America - Costa Rica
  • Mexico
  • South America - Colombia
  • South America - Venezuela
  • South America - Peru
  • Lanterns of Hope Multicultural Celebration
  • Hispanic Arts Initiative

Mixed Photo Gallery

This gallery alternates photos of Jon performing with photos that highlight his personal experiences. Special emphasis is placed on cultural experiences that have affected the content of his programs and his overall approach to music, storytelling, education and life. As is the case with most of these photo galleries, these photos can serve students and teachers as an introduction to Jon. Note particularly that the photos from Central America reflect a deeper experience with the people and culture than those from South America, which were taken under more typical touristic conditions.

Square Dancing at Arts Based Elementary

Square dancing provides a dynamic and interactive musical/ cultural experience. Jon can come for an evening family program, such as the one depicted, using a live band (preferably) or recorded music. At the center of the evening Jon can do a short set of folk songs and tales. If funds allow, the evening program can be preceded by a few daytime visits to learn the dances in advance. This type of event is an excellent option for fourth and eighth grade classes studying North Carolina.

Crafts for Multicultural Programs

The crafts shown in this gallery can be displayed at the host school when Jon does a multicultural or Hispanic program. The photo gallery can be used by the art teacher or other teachers as a program introduction, while also providing an interesting exercise in comparing, contrasting and organizing crafts according to various criteria.Instead of arranging them by country, students can be asked to organize them by materials used (for example cloth, wood or ceramic), design (pictographic, geometric or a combination) or function(decoration, play, clothing, etc). They can also compare and contrast within one of these categories (for example, pictographic representations in Colombian, Peruvian and Mexican wall hangings and accessories) Students could even use one as an inspiration for a creative work of their own.


These photos were taken in 1970, during an eleven month stay in Japan. For the first ten months Jon lived in Tokyo and worked with Koyota Printing Company as a representative of his father’s color separation company. During the last month, Jon travelled alone throughout the country. These photos were selecteJapan d to create a panorama of Japanese culture and life. An interesting exercise for students anticipating a multicultural program from Jon is to analyze what different aspects of life are represented – religion, cultural events, nature, different forms of work and play. The photos were taken with a serious, non-automatic camera, allowing Jon to create exciting compositions that reflect his fascination with the beauty of Japan. Unfortunately, the color in the original slides has faded some over the last forty-five years!

Central America – Guatemala

These photos were taken in 1988 and 1994, during two separate visits to study Spanish in this beautiful country with a painful history. Both took place during their 36 year civil war, which ended in 1996, but photos of the first visit particularly reflect the effects of the war. During the first visit, based in the huge capital of Guatemala City, we spent our afternoons visiting different sites to understand the social problems of this country ruled by a military force which was dedicated to preserving its own power and the rich families that had run the country for centuries. The last dozen photos show consequences of their campaign to destroy any possible opposition to its policies that hurt the poor and indigenous people. This included destroying 400 indigenous villages and killing anyone criticizing them or remotely suspected of assisting the rebels. The second visit, reflected in the earlier photographs, was centered in the small, ancient city of Antigua, where the emphasis was more scenic and cultural.

Central America – El Salvador

The first 12 of these photos were taken in 1988 during the Salvadoran civil war, while on a a visit with the Center for Global Education. The first four show a visit to a progressive church outside the capitol city, San Salvador. The next eight show Santa Marta settlement, which was set up by refugees who had fled the country and then returned to live on unused land.

The other photos were taken during a 1994 visit with members of my church to explore the possibility of helping the mountain community of Torola in Morazan province, that had suffered greatly during the civil war. The first eleven of these are in other areas of the country that we visited initially, some en route to Torola. The last series of photos were taken in Torola itself and nearby Segundo Montes, getting to know members of the Torola community, hearing their stories and inquiring about how they might like us to help them. The visit had a profound effect on the young people who went with us. Seeing the positive spirit of people who suffered so much and lived such a meager existence helped them appreciate the comfort and security of their own lives in the US and made them want to assist their less fortunate neighbors.

Central America – Nicaragua

The first and last of these photographs were lent to me by my friend Alma Blount, who served as a staff member for Witness for Peace during the Nicaraguan civil war (1982-1988). By accompanying the Nicaraguan people and serving as a witness of violence brought upon them, Witness for Peace staff, volunteers and visitors tried to make the effects of the war, which was supported by US funds, known to the American people, so they would pressure our government to change its policy. Witness for Peace also hoped, in some measure, to shield the people from violence, since harming US citizens might draw increased opposition in our country.

Other photographs were taken by or for me during my visits in 1988 and 1994. They show the meager living situation of people in the capital city, Managua and elsewhere. A positive note is reflected in the children’s libraries established throughout the country, many of them through the organization, “Libros para Ninos” (Books for Children). In the photos of El Salvador you’ll see noted that I raised money through my church and US library programs to help Libros para Ninos establish a small library in Segundo Montes.

Central America – Costa Rica

These photos were taken in 1997 during a three week visit to study Spanish at the IPEE Institute. Costa Rica is quite different from the other Central American countries, having a large middle class, a stable democracy and a peaceful history. Compare the look of the house where I stayed with other houses you’ve seen in the Central American countries. It also has beautiful, well preserved rainforests and, at higher elevation, a cloud forest that our class visited for several days.


During their later years, Jon’s parents spent winters and summers in the colonial Mexican city of San Miguel de Allende, in the state of Guanajuato. On several occasions Jon visited them there. Jon’s father was an artist who painted many of the scenes he saw within the city. Several of his paintings are coupled here with photographs of the same or similar scenes. Beneath the primary present day landscape Abner Sundell often drew images from Mexico’s past, because he wanted to show that Mexico’s history can still be felt in the scenes and life of today. These secondary images are particularly strong in the last three photos. What aspect of Mexico’s past do you think he is trying to emphasize in these?

South America – Colombia

These photos were taken over several visits during 1997 (visiting with friends Osiris Blandon and her daughter Laura Catalina at Lago Calima) and 2002-2006 (visiting with Vivian Dominguez and Ana Maria Herrera, who later became his wife and daughter, in their home city of Cali and several touristic areas). They give a good sense of typical recreational places a middle class family might frequent.

South America – Venezuela

These photos were taken in 1999 while visiting friends in several locations, particularly the cities of Caracas, Maracaibo, Merida and several other mountain, rainforest and coastal locations. They highlight the county’s varied geography, as well as some of its touristic and cultural attractions.

South America – Peru

These photos were taken in 2003. They highlight some of Peru’s cultural traditions, such as the rich music, dance, masks and costumes, particularly those related their carnaval (similar to the New Orleans Mardi Gras) at the beginning of lent. Also seen is the rocky coastline, where large numbers of seals live.

Lanterns of Hope Multicultural Celebration

This program was created by Jon for his own library branch in 1988, based on a program taking place in many countries worldwide. It soon became an annual system-wide event which rotated to different locations to attract various segments of the community. Still running today, Lanterns of Hope is the longest running children’s program of Forsyth County Public Library system. There are three parts: (1) Children and parents make Japanese styled peace lanterns, decorating the shades with images and phrases that represent their hope for a better, more understanding world. (2) Performances are presented from 2 or 3 different cultural traditions. (3) In earlier days, before strict safety concerns from Risk Management tamed the event, over a hundred lanterns were tied together, illuminated and slowly towed around the local lake by a canoe. (See Multicultural Connections for more details.)

Hispanic Arts Initiative

Jon founded this organization in 1998 together with some local Hispanic artists and community members interested in creating artistic and cultural activities for the burgeoning Latin population. The major goal was to provide a cultural bridge to their homeland for recent immigrants and to help their US-born children better appreciate their ethnic roots. This was mostly accomplished through Hispanic music, dance, puppetry and visual arts classes taught in Spanish by professional Latino artists. Jon led the group till 2006, when the organization was able to raise sufficient funds to hire a paid director. In succeeding years emphasis moved to collaborate with other arts organizations in presenting Latino arts to the greater community.