Reviews & Research
The Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka: Background & Analysis Dr. Barbara McCloskey, University of Pittsburgh Department of the History of Art and Architecture
Maxo Vanka’s murals for Millvale’s Croatian Church of St. Nicholas are a unique contribution to the American mural movement of the 1930s and 1940s. Under Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal, government agencies began in 1933 to sponsor the production of murals as part of the largest federal art program in the nation’s history. Grouped together under the WPA (Works Progress Administration), these agencies put thousands of artists back to work with commissions to provide art for government buildings, post offices and schools around the country. In a nation struggling to lift itself out of the Great Depression and confronting the perils of world war, these federally sponsored murals were viewed as an important aspect of economic recovery.
More controversially, they were also considered key to the construction of a national culture and the safeguarding of the American way of life. The history of the WPA is fraught with conflicts between artists and officials over the role these murals were to assume in defining the America that was then taking shape.