Maxo Vanka’s “Gift to America:” art that lives on
Maxo Vanka completed 25 individual murals in two brief but intense periods in 1937 and 1941. He then returned to the Church in 1951 to add the five symbols of Christianity to the choir loft.
Vanka’s paint medium was not obvious. It is documented that he tried to make his own from a variety of substances – including mayonnaise – but finally settled on a commercial preparation of casein.
Father Zagar lightly prescribed the artist’s subject matter and Vanka maximized his opportunity to pay tribute to faith while expressing his passionate beliefs about social justice, injustice, the horrors of war and helping to preserve and celebrate cultural identity among an immigrant population.
The 75-plus year presence of the 25 main murals has been largely unaltered with approximately 4,500 square feet of the original paintings on constant display. Other aspects of Vanka’s work including a detailed textile design that covered almost every other open wall and pillar space were modified in keeping with the needs of the Church.
Although not a western Pennsylvania artist, Vanka’s work is reminiscent of the visual storytellers at work during the same time period. Vanka referred to the murals as his “Gift to America.” This collection has been compared to the works of the great Mexican muralist Diego Rivera.