If you are headed to Millvale then make time to see the Maxo Vanka murals, which might be one of Pittsburgh’s best-kept secrets.
From Route 28, St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic church looks like an unassuming religious building tucked away on the bluff. Inside the church, the decor is anything but ordinary— the walls of the church are covered with 25 murals by the artist Maxo Vanka. What makes these church murals unique are the political statements found in several of the scenes. The Maxo Vanka murals have been compared to the works of Mexican muralist Diego Rivera and some of the murals of the Works Progress Administration artists.
All of the murals can be viewed online here.
The other unique thing about the murals is that they have their own nonprofit that works to preserve, restore and promote the murals to an audience outside of the congregation. The Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka was founded in 1991 and has worked to put the murals on the National Register of Historic Places.
If you are interested in learning more, start with the SPMMMV website at vankamurals.org.
Pittsburgh filmmaker Kenneth Love made a documentary about the murals in 2012, “Maxo Vanka’s Masterpiece: The Murals at St. Nicholas Church”. You can purchase a DVD of the documentary from the church.
Visiting the Maxo Vanka Murals
Docent-led tours are held every Saturday at 11 am, Noon and 1 pm. Tours last about an hour. Note that tours may be canceled or postponed due to parish activities. It is recommended that you register in advance for tours. Private tours are available on request. If you are visiting Pittsburgh on a weekday, be sure to reach out for a tour or if the church is open, you should be able to stop by and see the murals in person.
More information on the VankaMurals.org website. The Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka is also on Facebook.