Born in 1889, Croatian painter Maximilian (Maxo) Vanka studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Zagreb, and later became a professor there. As a young student he exhibited at an international show in Brussels and in 1914 won the gold medal of King Albert at the event. The artist continued to exhibit throughout Europe, and won many honors. He married an American, Margaret Stetten, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1934 and lived in New York City.
In 1937, Father Albert Zagar, priest of St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic church in Millvale, contacted Vanka. Zagar invited the artist to come and paint murals on the interior of the small Romanesque church, which had been rebuilt recently after having been destroyed by fire. Vanka accepted the invitation and shortly thereafter came to the church, collaborating with the priest to create one of the most spectacular collections of murals in the world. The artist painted a portion of the murals in 1937, and in 1941 came back to the church to paint the remainder of the scenes. Vanka’s philosophy of painting revealed the deep spirituality of this artist, who subscribed to no particular faith and married a Jewish woman. On his philosophy of painting, he declared: “I painted so that Divinity in becoming human, would make humanity divine.” Vanka founded the art department at Delaware Valley College of Science and Agriculture in New Britain, PA. He died in 1963 in Mexico. The Michener Museum in Doylestown, PA, holds a collection of Vanka’s works. His family also retains possession of much of the body of his work.