Behind the Murals

Behind the Murals, Histories & Other Stories examines the historic, social and artistic influences impacting each stage of the creation of Maxo Vanka’s Millvale Murals. The viewer will see how the artist’s formative experiences were shared and expressed by others around the world and within industrial Pittsburgh. By examining Vanka’s images within the context of world events and social movements and through the lens of personal stories, recollections and scholarly examination, a framework emerges that reinforces the uniqueness, power and timeless relevance of Vanka’s Millvale Masterpiece.

Dr. Sylvia Rhor:

“From the gas-masked figure of Injustice to the images of industrial disaster, Maxo Vanka‚Äôs extraordinary mural cycle in St. Nicholas Croatian Church is unique in mural history. While Vanka’s work is atypical, particularly in the context of a church, it was also part of a rich mural culture in Pittsburgh in the first half of the 20th century. Well-known artists from across the nation and from Europe and Mexico flocked to the city to paint murals for Pittsburgh’s civic buildings, department stores and private residences. It was against this backdrop that Vanka created the Millvale cycle.”

Dr. Sylvia Rhor is associate professor of Art History at Carlow University, where she also serves as co-director of the University’s Honors Program. Dr. Rhor received an MA and PhD in the History of Art from the University of Pittsburgh and a BA in Art History and Studio Art from New York University, where she was a Martin Luther King, Jr. Minority Scholar.

She has presented public lectures, directed docent training workshops and created teacher resources for museums in Chicago, New York and Pittsburgh. She served on the curatorial team for To Inspire and to Instruct: The Art Collection of Chicago Public Schools at The Art Institute of Chicago and Americanisms: Shaping Art and Culture in the 1950s at The Andy Warhol Museum. Dr. Rhor also co-curated two exhibitions at the Andy Warhol Museum: Too Hot to Handle: Creating Controversy Through Political Cartoons and Drawn to the Summit: A G-20 Exhibition of International Political Cartoons.

Dr. Rhor has also served on the Board of Directors of Gateway to the Arts and on the advisory boards of Girls as Grantmakers of the Women and Girls Foundation of Western Pennsylvania, The Sprout Fund’s Public Art Program, and The Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka. Since 2009, Dr. Rhor has served on the City of Pittsburgh’s Art Commission.

Dr. Charles McCollester

“In the eighth year of the Great Depression (1937) and on the brink of humankind’s most destructive war (1941), Croatian artist Maxo Vanka painted his “gift to America.” A distillation of sturdy immigrant dreams, his murals at St Nicholas Church in Millvale, illustrate a powerful dichotomy between the terrors and injustices of this world and the Christian promise of redemption out of suffering.”

Charles McCollester received his doctorate from the Catholic University of Louvain in Leuven Belgium in 1969. After extensive travel in Western and Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Mexico and Africa, he and his wife Linda settled in Pittsburgh in 1973, where they raised five children and now have six grandchildren. After thirteen years working in restaurants and as a construction worker, a machinist and union leader (Chief Steward of UE 610 at the Union Switch & Signal plant in Swissvale), he was hired in 1986 by the Pennsylvania Center for the Study of Labor Relations at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and eventually retired in 2009 as a professor of Industrial and Labor Relations. His book The Point of Pittsburgh: Production and Struggle at the Forks of the Ohio tells the epic tale of natives and workers, immigrants and minorities, who built the crucible of modern industrial life. His book Fighter with a Heart: The Writings of Charles Owen Rice, Pittsburgh Labor Priest, provides insights into relations between the labor movement and the Catholic Church.