Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Priceless Pittsburgh: Must See Sights For G20 Visitors: The Maxo Vanka Murals

Too much stuff for one person to post, but I'll try through the G20.

I'm obsessed with the opportunity the G20 may create to widen the awareness of many of the priceless things here that need to be seen, supported and preserved.

It's not an insult to say, that no man, or city is an island or to admit that the city is far too small and poor at this time to fully protect the great things here. This is the reality of being or having been a "shrinking city". Not that I'm for shrinking- I think we can grow and attract far more capital and investment and opportunities than we have.

In that light, I hope to do some posts G20 visitors should see, that are off the beaten track. All help would be appreciated-- please feel free to post your picks in the comment box.

The following images are of the Murals In St Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millavale, PA.

Here, is Merge's full post on the Vanka Murals, which I hope he doesn't mind me repasting.

"Earlier I wrote about a little-known local Pittsburgh gem called St. Anthony's. Certainly this collection of relics housed in the Troy Hill neighborhood is like no other in the world. But it's not the only unparalleled experience you can have at a church around these parts. In nearby Millvale sits another form of unimagined treasure. St. Nicholas Catholic Church ministers to the needs of a local community of refugees from war-torn Croatia and Bosnia-Herzogevina, as well as the historically entrenched populations from these countries that have lived in Pittsburgh for decades. There are actually two St. Nicholas locations within the parish- a situation that has been a source of confusion for many years. One of these physical structures is no longer in service, as it lies along a well-traveled corridor dominated by Route 28. Planned roadwork has sealed the fate of this church, and the building itself is most likely not long for this world.

Meanwhile the Millvale location of St. Nicholas is a regional (and perhaps international) treasure. The outward appearance and construction of this house of worship offer no clues to its exceptionality. Yet if you manage to gain entry inside, you will quickly become aware that nothing like it exists anywhere else. For on the inner walls of the church are painted striking murals, complete with social commentary and unique spiritual resonance. They were painted in the 1930's and 40's by Croatian artist Maxo Vanka. As the official church website points out-
"They represent the struggles of the Croatian people in the face of war and poverty in their homeland and as immigrants in post-industrial America." They are the artist's emotionally- drenched and troublesome gift to this nation's people. And they serve both as a reminder of the importance of faith, and as a warning of what humanity is capable of.

Vanka's personal belief in the futility of war and his sadness at seeing his homeland destroyed are made patently obvious through his work. After being commissioned by Father Albert Zagar to paint the murals in 1937, Vanka completed two cycles of paintings (20 altogether)- the first in an eight-week span that spring, and the second group in 1941. The latter works clearly demonstrate his anguish over the war in Europe. He set for himself grueling shifts of up to 16-18 hours a day, and sustained his energy with multiple doses of Coca-Cola. Zagar gave the internationally-renowned artist a freehand to depict whatever imagery he so chose. In doing so, Zagar empowered Vanka to create timeless works mixing secular and spiritual concerns in a manner wholly original.

The content of these murals is truly unforgettable. There are mournful peasants entreating God for support in their difficult struggles in the Croatian countryside. An angel in a gas mask looms over the congregation from high upon one wall. An anguished, crucified Christ separates two war-crazed soldiers. In a similar scene, the Virgin Mary desperately tries her hand at a peaceful resolution. On another wall an industrial robber baron sits at dinner and is served a cleansing course of fiery retribution by a skeletal hand. These are not the placid reassuring scenes of sanctification that a regular churchgoer becomes acclimated to. They challenge the viewer to seek the holy in the most trying of times.

Had these paintings been completed for a museum, they would inspire a constant stream of tourists from all over the world. As it is, they await the few who become aware of their existence through word-of-mouth. Since my initial exposure to them, I have tried periodically to see them again. But it's no use showing up on church property, hoping for the random chance. You must call ahead of time to see the murals. Fortunately the woman in charge of tours is accommodating, and will show you around for nothing but a freely-offered donation. If you happen to be in the Pittsburgh area, I am scheduling a group tour for either this coming Monday or Tuesday. Contact me if you want to be included. The experience will leave an indelible mark upon you."

Sadly, the murals while they are dearly loved by their small parrish are in a small, little working class town near Pittsburgh (Allegheny County has over 150 separate municipalities)They need help.

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Today they stand as a moving tribute to the people of Croatia, the Croatian immigrant and all immigrants to the United States. They are among the most striking and provocative murals found anywhere in the world. Maxo Vanka's twenty murals, combined with a more contemporary and complimentary mural by J I Knezevich, form a unique church artwork that combines secular and ecclesiastical images with startling interpretations of 20th century historic events.

You can support the work to preserve the murals through the Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka. Please write for more information to:
The Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka
c/o Diane Novosel Chairperson
151 Stone Gate Drive
Leechburg PA 15656-7228

Personal and group tours of the murals can be arranged by calling:

Diane Novosel - 1.724.845.2907
The Parish directly - 1.412.821.3438

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for promoting the Maxo Vanka Murals. From 9/21/09 thru 9/26/09, the church will be open from 1pm to 4pm daily. Come and visit the most talked about, written about and visited murals in the area. You will not be disappointed.
Diane Novosel