Monday, December 26, 2016

Day 181 St. Nicholas Church (Millvale)- Holiday light tour of Croatian Murals -Gift to America

Pittsburgh’s  rich immigrant  history  has given  birth to many hidden treasures. One of these treasures is the water color tempera  murals painted on the walls of  St.Nicholas Church in Millvale.   During the  Holidays we give gifts and the  Croatian artist,  Maxo Vanka, said that the murals were his "Gift to America.”  These paintings mix both secular and religious images to tell the story of the Croatian immigrant experience in the United  States.  The Holiday Light Tour sponsored by “The Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of  Maxo  Vanka.”  This tour is a good way to see these paintings with new LED lighting and learn about their social justice, anti war, and reverence for women themes. 

St Nicholas Croatian Church 

St. Nicholas church was built in 1900. It is the  first Croatian church established in the U.S.  In  1937, Vanka, from NYC, was commissioned by  the church priest, Father  Zagar,  to paint images that would remind  the Croatian congregation of their homeland.  At this time there were about 200,000 Croatians living in the surrounding area of Pittsburgh.

Croatian Mothers Raise Sons for War
Vank's elevation or appreciation of women in his art was of interest. The main alter is adorned with a huge Byzantine icon style Madonna holding the baby Jesus.  However, the Virgin Mary  was not thin like most icon images  but  robust to emphasize the strength of  and his reverence for peasant women.  Vanka, although a Nobel, was raised by a peasant woman until 8 years of age when he was then sent to a boarding school.

American Mother Raise Sons for Industry
The subject matter of war's impact on mothers  and their love for their children is used in various paintings throughout the church. The church's right back wall has a painting titled, “Croatian Mothers Raise Sons for  War”  which depicts peasant women lamenting  the death  of a solder. The left back wall has a paining called, “American Mothers Raise Sons for Industry,” showing women crying  following a mining accident.  There is a side wall with  the Old Testament stories of  Moses and Aaron. This wall has a picture of a mother chained to a cross. This was painted at the time of World War II and represents the idea that mothers are unable to help their sons of war.
Mother chained to cross

Croatia, like present Bosnia,  was often in  flux of  some type of war. Thus Vanka had a strong adversity to it. He said that his paintings were his gift to the country (America) that gave his people a life free from war.  Interesting how art can be applicable in any era.   

You can catch the Holiday Light Tour on  December 27th  and 29th. You can enjoy the art at St. Nicholas Church anytime.
Secular and religious images 

Spiritual Reflection   
 They ran to the village and found Mary and Joseph. And there was the baby, lying in the manger. Then the shepherd told everyone what had happened and what the angel had said to them about the child. All who heard the shepherd’s’ story were astonished, but Mary quietly treasured these things in her heart and thought about them often. (Luke 2: 16-19).
 New LED lighting on the sides
Other sources
Maxo Vanka Murals
St. Nicholas Parish- Millvale