Prudence

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.

St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church and the Vanka 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, through the generosity of thousands of individuals and institutions, SPMMMV has funded the conservation of 17 of Maxo Vanka’s 25 stunning murals and related programming. In 2022, the Institute of Museum & Library Services in partnership with the National Park Service awarded SPMMMV a Save America’s Treasures Collections Grant to help bring full conservation of the murals to 90% completion. 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
412-408-3180 x 101
adoering@vankamurals.org

Becky Gaugler
Director of Education & Interpretation
412-408-3180 x 102
bgaugler@vankamurals.org

Mary Beth Fazio
Coordinator, Tourism and Visitor Services
412-408-3180 x 103
mbfazio@vankamurals.org

Ana Alba
Alba Art Conservation, Lead Conservator

Roman Benty
Vanka Educator and Community Partnership Coordinator, Light Education Initiative

Steffi Domike
Vanka Collection Curator

Michelle King
Vanka Educator-in-Residence and Learning Instigator and Love Activist, Educational Consultant

Rob Long
Clear Story, Lead Lighting Designer

Maggie Negrete
Vanka Educator and Artist, Illustrator, Designer, Art Director of Women in Sound

Dr. Sylvia Rhor
University Gallery/University of Pittsburgh, Lead Curator, Vanka Collection

Zena Ruiz
Vanka Educator and 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

Meredith Stepp
United Steelworkers, Chair

Jennifer Novotny Mulrooney
FedEx, Vice Chair

Christine Erimias
Fragrasso Financial Advisors, Treasurer

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

Matthew Falcone
Preservation Pittsburgh

Louis Kroeck
LJK Law PLLC

Chris McGinnis
Rivers of Steel

Shanae Phillips
Radiant Hall Studios

Dr. Kathleen Roberts
Professor & Honors College Director, Duquesne University

Andrew Stefanick

Kate Zidar, PhD

Mike Zula

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.

Headshot of Susan

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.

Maura Bainbridge has a background in archaeology, specializing in the memorialization of labor conflicts in the United States. Her research includes the Battle of Homestead. Maura is excited to bring her passion for labor history to the Murals and to engage with visitors about how and why people choose to remember worker’s history.

 

 

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.”

Headshot of Mary Ellen

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.

Headshot of Ben

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.”

Timothy Grieve-Carlson, a world religions and philosophy professor, first read about Maxo Vanka’s Murals in Louis Adamic’s 1938 essay for Harper’s magazine. When Tim moved to Pittsburgh, he took a tour and was deeply moved by how Vanka wove depictions of immigrants, labor, and Croatian life with the Biblical tradition.

Bridget Hovell is a recent transplant to Pittsburgh working in Carnegie Museums’ membership department. She became a Tour Volunteer because she missed interacting more directly with museum visitors. At the Murals, she looks forward to engaging with guests and learning more about Pittsburgh’s many vibrant communities.

Prudence

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 Proie wandered into St. Nicholas Church 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 Kathleen Roberts settled on the outskirts of Millvale after traveling the world, she considers it the best place her family has ever been. No matter how much time Kathleen spends with the Murals she learns something new, she loves how the Murals are timeless, yet capture a world very specific to the immigrant experience in Pittsburgh. “I am a realist about social struggles and human flaws. I see in the murals the very best of Catholic Social Teaching: solidarity, justice, a preferential option for the poor, and above all: Love.

Mike Secilia is a born and bred Pittsburgher of Croatian descent. He was drawn to the Vanka Murals as a history instructor with an interest in Pittsburgh’s Croatian American community. Mike is fascinated by the ways in which historical memory is encoded in art, language, literature, and ceremony. He is excited about the potential of preserving culture through public engagement and shared storytelling.

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.”

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.”

Kelly Wall remembers first seeing the Murals during an evening mass in Catholic grade school. Although intimidated as a 6-year-old, Vanka’s unforgettable work brought her back. As a history teacher, she especially appreciates how the Murals challenge visitors to reflect on humanity and our role within it.

Caitlin Yeager was blown away the first time she saw the Murals, not only by how visually stunning they are, but by the endless conversations that can be had about them. After stepping away from over a decade in Museum Education and Art Education, she was getting the itch to come back to teach and could hear the murals calling.

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)
Michelle King, Educational Instigator and Love Activist

Danielle Linzer
Senior Director of Education and Research, Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh/MuseumLab

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

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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