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Nonprofit completes mural conservation at Millvale's St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church

| Monday, April 17, 2017, 12:11 a.m.
One of the murals at St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale depicts the aftermath of an immigrant killed in a coal mine accident. Credit: Rob Long, Clear Story Studio.
One of the newly restored murals at St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale. Credit: Rob Long, Clear Story Studio
One of the murals at St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale. Credit: Rob Long, Clear Story Studio

Preservationists have deemed that it is time for the public to view Millvale's St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church's murals in a new light.

Croatian artist Maxo Vanka painted the 25 murals adorning the church's walls and ceiling in 1937 and 1941.

Starting in 2009, the Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka launched fundraising efforts to clean and restore the art.

In 2015, the society prioritized illuminating the murals in a “state-of-the-art” manner, said Anna Doering, the nonprofit's managing director. Bethel Park-based Buch Electric and Rob Long of South Side-based Clear Story have assisted the society in transitioning from portable theatrical lighting to an LED, targeted approach rendering the murals almost as though they are backlit, she said.

“What's gotten the biggest reaction as of late has been the lighting. It's probably not overstating it to call it transformational,” Doering said.

The nonprofit has completed conservation of 10 murals, added permanent lighting to eight and installed most of the lighting infrastructure to the remaining pieces.

Doering said the society needs to raise $300,000 for ceiling restorations and another $100,000 for the altar mural. The lighting upgrades will cost $250,000.

To promote the murals – and fundraising efforts – the society will hold its fourth annual “Cocktails & Conservation” at 6 p.m. April 28 at the church.

Last year's event raised nearly $25,000 and drew large crowd, Doering said.

WQED's Rick Sebak will host the benefit, which will feature jazz pianist Tom Roberts and a presentation from Pittsburgh-based Foulke Fine Art Conservation LLC regarding a mural depicting a battlefield scene.

“This year we'll be talking about how Vanka came to the church,” Doering added.

A silent auction will contain vintage items, including jewelry, clothing and home décor, with a 1937 spin for the year when Vanka started his murals. Contemporary goods such as museum tours and event tickets will constitute an auction of chance.

Iron Oven Catering will provide hors d'oeuvres and the St. Nicholas Bakers will supply a 2,000-item dessert table. Vecenie Distributing Co. of Millvale will provide Croatian beer and other beverages. Similarly, a historical group, the Ladies United for the Preservation of Endangered Cocktails, will create a custom event cocktail and provide education about the murals.

The event will touch on many interests for people, Doering said.

“We see people telling us they're coming to the murals either because of the art or because of the science of conservation, because of the history, because of religion,” Doering said. “The same person could check off four or five of those things as reasons. Or they could check off one thing. I think it's just that it can be something for everyone.”

Erica Cebzanov is a freelance writer.

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