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Save Maxo Vanka

OUR MISSION IS to conserve and protect for permanent public exhibition the nationally recognized Maxo Vanka murals within St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Pittsburgh, enabling the immigrant artist’s “gift to America” to serve as an enduring catalyst for community engagement and education, inspire social and cultural dialogue, celebrate diversity, and forge connections through reflections on the extraordinary American experience.

OUR VISION IS to establish a lasting national monument to America’s storied immigrant experience, utilizing the ongoing conservation of the historic Maxo Vanka murals to create a nexus for community engagement, education and socially and culturally oriented programming that evokes reverence for the past and inspiration for the future.

The Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka

Created to raise awareness and educate the public about the murals and their significance to Pittsburgh’s history, and their depiction of America’s immigrant experience, SPMMMV was incorporated in 1991 as an independent 501(c)(3) organization.

Because of the Society’s efforts, the murals have received historical designations by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and the National Register of Historic Places.

SPMMMV also manages the tour program, staffed by trained volunteer docents, during our regular Saturday hours and private tours by special request. We’re also responsible for the fundraising effort to facilitate immediate conservation and lighting of the murals.

Since 2009, SPMMMV has raised nearly $1.5M from generous individuals and institutions making it possible to conserve and light 12 of Maxo Vanka’s 25 stunning murals and related programming. Public interest, awareness and access to the Murals increases each year through the Society’s efforts and with the support of the community.

Team Vanka

Anna Doering, Executive Director
adoering@vankamurals.org

Becky Gaugler, Director of Education & Interpretation
bgaugler@vankamurals.org

Mary Beth Fazio, Tour and Administrative Coordinator
mbfazio@vankamurals.org

  • Rikke Foulke, Foulke Fine Art Conservation, Lead Conservator
  • Michelle King, Learning Instigator and Love Activist, Educational Consultant
  • Rob Long, Clear Story, Lead Lighting Designer
  • Dr. Sylvia Rhor, University Gallery/University of Pittsburgh, Lead Curator, Vanka Collection
  • Zena Ruiz, Teaching Artist, Education Consultant and Community Pollinator
  • Jeff Slack, Time & Place LLC, Preservation Consultant

Administrative Office
15 Maryland Ave.
Millvale, PA  15209

Mailing Address
24 Maryland Ave.
Millvale, PA  15209

info@vankamurals.org

412.408.3180 (Office/Voicemail)

Board of Directors

Jennifer Novotny Mulrooney, FedEx – Chair

Maya Haptas, Fourth Economy – Vice Chair

Christine Erimias, Fragrasso Financial Advisors – Treasurer

Kayla Washko, Tepper School of Business, Carnegie Mellon University – Secretary

 

Julia Bubanovich, Precision Copy Products
Steff Domike, United Steelworkers
Matthew Falcone, Preservation Pittsburgh
Louis Kroeck, LJK Law PLLC
Chris McGinnis, Rivers of Steel
Shanae Phillips, Radiant Hall Studios
Andrew Stefanick, Lipari Foods, Docent Manager
Meredith Stepp, United Steelworkers
Kate Zidar, PhD Candidate, University of Pittsburgh

Emeritus
David Demarest, Ph.D.*
Sam Iusi
Diane Novosel
Mary Petrich

*Deceased
Volunteers

Volunteers are the heart of Vanka Murals. Meet the people who bring Vanka’s art to life.

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Susan Abramowich has enjoyed exploring the intersection of art and the social and political histories of their time since studying Art History in college. She believes the Vanka Murals are “not only a perfect expression of this intersection, they continue to be relevant to our very own contemporary issues.” Far afield from her college studies, Susan now works within the juvenile justice system.

David Bennett

David Bennett is an academic librarian who discovered the murals in Rick Sebak’s “Holy Pittsburgh” documentary. He began leading hikes with Venture Outdoors that included a stop at the murals, and he couldn’t stop coming back. David sees the murals as a monument to “the mill workers, the miners, the mothers and daughters.”

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Mary Ellen Byers is the granddaughter of four immigrants, two of whom were founding parishioners of St. Nicholas Church. Her favorite mural is “A Simple Family Meal” for its portrayal of community, faith, and thankfulness in spite of hardship. Mary Ellen hopes to honor her grandparents by sharing the story of the sacrifices so many immigrants made.

Aaron Ciarkowski

Aaron Ciarkowski first discovered the Murals in a newspaper and was “amazed that these impressive works of art existed relatively unknown in the city.” Aaron’s favorite mural is the Madonna with Child above the altar because it’s the first to catch your eye upon entering the church; in it he sees the greatness of a common mother.

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Ben Cook was skeptical the first time he came—he wasn’t sure that such an “unassuming” church could live up to what he’d heard. But he immediately fell in love. “I grew up in the Mon Valley, surrounded by the regional history of immigration and labor and their impacts in the community, within a deep Catholic context,” he says, “There is much in the murals that feels very home-like for me.”

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Ian Clemente, Greeter

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Mary Beth Fazio was immediately taken in by the stories told through Vanka’s Murals and how closely they related to the history of the coal mining town where she was raised. She explains, “Marked by the worst mining disaster in American history, Monongah, WV, is known for the loss of hundreds of immigrant laborers and the strong women left behind after nearly every man was lost in the explosion.”

Lorinda Hayes

Lorinda Hayes describes the murals as “my family history in color.” She sees in the murals, especially the Pieta and its companion murals, a reflection of common human sufferings and failures on a grand scale. Lorinda volunteers her time because she sees that “these murals are a treasure.”

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Ray McGogney is a retired schoolteacher who first saw the murals while attending an event and was impressed by the intensity of their social message. Ray volunteers because he enjoys “bringing these murals and their meanings to people who are awed by their scope and beauty.”

Diane

Diane Novosel attended St. Nicholas grade school and has been a member of the church her whole life. She sees the stories of her grandparents in the murals and loves to connect with others who recognize their family histories in the Murals too. Volunteering is her way “to honor the artist who painted the murals and, more importantly, the people who inspired them.”

Taylor Roberts wandered into St. Nicholas’s one day for a tour, and she loved it so much that she came back six more times. She found healing as she made sense of her own history and examples of strong women. Taylor explains, “The women on the walls of the church have been what I needed these last few years as I have been doing a lot of growing.”

Dr. Kenneth Rozycki

Dr. Kenneth Rozycki attended St. Nicholas school as a child. When Vanka returned to paint the front of the choir loft in the 1950s, Ken often saw him around the church and remembers the scaffolding Vanka worked on being in place. He finds “Immigrant Mothers Raise Their Sons for Industry” particularly meaningful, as both he and his father labored in a steel mill. 

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Micky Sedota discovered the murals while she and her grandmother were looking for information about their Croatian heritage. Together they found common ground and mutual appreciation of their differing views. Micky especially appreciates “Mary on the Battlefield” for its depiction of “the endurance of a mother’s love and the invincibility of the human spirit.”

Andrew Stefanick

Andrew Stefanick grew up attending St. Nicholas church and doesn’t remember a time before he knew the murals. He especially appreciates Vanka’s love of nature. Andrew believes that because the murals contain universal themes and values, “all who visit can find a bit of themselves and their histories, no matter their background.”

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Page Thomas was first introduced to Vanka by his wife (the Mural’s Chief Conservator). His interest in the Murals began when he saw them and wondered how one person could complete such an immense work on their own. Page enjoys “sharing the stories told through the murals” and seeing others experience the same joy and wonder that he felt the first time.

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Vanessa Vought discovered the murals while attending a funeral. Raised in churches that did not have any religious artwork, she found Vanka Murals both impressive in scope and personal in their concern for the experiences of the parish community. Vanessa enjoys introducing others to these “snapshots of history.” 

Advisory Council

Susan H. Brownlee, former executive director, Fine Foundation
David Conrad, Writer and Actor
Rene Conrad, Executive Director, New Hazlett Theatre

Heidi Cook, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Art History, Truman State University
John Halderman (Vanka Family), Assistant Counsel, Exelon Corporation
Marya Halderman (Vanka Family)
Kathryn Heidemann, President, Cleveland Institute of Art
Michelle King, Educational Instigator and Love Activist
Danielle Linzer, Senior Director of Education and Research, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh/MuseumLab
Sara Jane Lowry, Nonprofit Consultant and former Board Member
Eric Menninger, Nonprofit Consultant
Christine Mondor, Principal/Founder, EvolveEA
Mary Navarro, Nonprofit Consultant
Judith Hansen O’Toole, Executive Director, The Fine Foundation
Ronald Poropatich, MD, Professor of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh and Member, St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church
Jackie Smith, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, University of Pittsburgh
Rev. Nicholas S. Vaskov, Director of the Shrines of Pittsburgh
Jane Werner, Executive Director, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh
Scott Wolovich, Executive Director, New Sun Rising

Partners

We are grateful for the support of these contributors who’ve given generously to help us save and share the Vanka Murals:

Programming Partners

LIGHT Education Initiative

Private and Family Foundations

Anonymous (2)
Battle of Homestead Foundation
Bessie Anathan Charitable Trust
Bracher Family Revocable Trust

FedEx Ground

Fine Foundation
Grable Foundation
Heinz Endowments
Robert F. & Joan Marie Klein Fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation
Opportunity Fund
W.I. Patterson Charitable Trust

Pitcairn-Crabbe Charitable Foundation

The Pittsburgh Foundation

PNC Charitable Trusts

Rivers of Steel Heritage Area
Snee Reinhardt Charitable Trust
John & Helen Timo Foundation
Seldon & Susan Whitaker Fund of the Pittsburgh Foundation
United Steelworkers of America

 

Public/Government
Citizens for the Arts in PA
Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission

Matching Gifts
BMS Foundation
BNY Mellon Community Partnership
Buhl Foundation
Exelon Foundation
IBM Corporation Matching Gifts Program
Illinois Tool Works Foundation
Oracle Corporation
Peoples Natural Gas
PNC Foundation

as of 4/2022

Message to our community

The Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka stands in solidarity with the Black community and against the violence, racism, social injustice and abuse of privilege that we continue to witness in our country and the world that have taken the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and so many more.

Maxo Vanka’s murals includes universal and timeless commentary on societal issues. His paintings tell many stories, but they were also meant to illuminate and challenge painful truths, to call-out injustice, to provoke difficult conversations, and to inspire change. It is disheartening to acknowledge the extent to which their relevance has yet to fade.

Stewarding and sharing the Vanka Murals are not enough. As an organization, we must commit to the hard work; the inward and outward facing actions that help us live, grow and honor the power and meaning of the Vanka Murals.  We must and we will:

  • actively listen and help to amplify the voices that need to be heard now and in the future.
  • increase inclusivity among our Board, Advisory Council, staff and volunteers.
  • ensure that diverse perspectives and lived experiences are reflected in our interpretation of the murals.
  • collaborate to create community conversations inspired by current events and themes within the murals that lead toward honest recognition of injustices and produce positive strategies and actions.
  • expand revenue-sharing and awareness-raising partnerships with community organizations working on issues that resonate with the themes of the murals such as social and economic injustice, immigration, violence and more.

Our eyes, ears, hearts and minds are open to other ways we can contribute to our community and beyond and help make positive change happen. SPMMMV stands as a partner that will advocate for and work toward creating a more just society.

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