Gledaj! The Gaze of Maxo Vanka
On display April 20 through October 26, 2023
Presented by the Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka, in partnership with Rivers of Steel
Croatian artist Maxo Vanka is known to many for his “Gift to America”: the 25 murals painted on the walls of Millvale’s St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church. These one-of-a-kind murals—a tribute to an immigrant congregation and community—are also the dramatic culmination of the artist’s experiences, his vision of justice, and his unflinching gaze at the world around him.
In 2019, Maxo Vanka’s granddaughter, Marya Halderman, and her husband John gifted the Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka a treasure trove of original sketches and drawings completed during the artist’s visits to Pittsburgh in 1935 and 1937. The more than 130 works feature sketches of bridges, riverboats, industry, and architecture from the Pittsburgh region as well as preparatory sketches for the murals Maxo Vanka completed at St. Nicholas in Millvale.
This exhibition adds another dimension to our knowledge of Vanka. Where the work in the collection offers a window to the artist’s process on the murals, the pieces on loan show that Vanka was working on many of the themes, portraits, and scenes in the murals across his creative life. He drew inspiration from peasant life and costume, from Catholic liturgy and religious teaching, and from the landscape and architecture of his beloved Croatia. Many of the pieces on loan can be grouped thematically and demonstrate Vanka’s process, his intense concentration, his gaze.