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Of Art and Light: Shining a Spotlight on Maxo Vanka’s Murals with an LED Lighting Upgrade

April 20, 2016 @ 4:00 pm - 6:00 pm EDT

Join Green Building Alliance for this unique tour which combines history, art, energy efficiency, and religion.


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The sanctuary at St. Nicholas Church in Millvale is known as the “Sistine Chapel of Pittsburgh” and upon entering the space – flanked in stained glass windows and provocative tempura murals reaching all the way up to the ceiling – it’s easy to see why. The church (the first Croatian Catholic Church in the United States) commissioned Croatian-born artist Maksimilijan Vanka (Maxo Vanka) to lend his artistic interpretation to the space in the 1930s. Between 1937 and 1941, Vanka filled the sanctuary with magnificent murals evoking his feelings about depression, hope, immigration, war, industry, religion, and everything in between.

If Vanka’s own personal history isn’t enough to stir your curiosity (The short version: Bastard child of Croatian nobility is banished and raised by peasants, later becomes internationally-known artist, emigrates to America, creates masterpiece in Millvale, and eventually returns to Croatia where he is embraced by his biological family. Whew!), his images comparing industry to war (with Pittsburgh as a backdrop) in the age of World Wars I and II provide an intriguing snapshot of a trying time in world history.

Now, 75 years since the completion of Vanka’s murals at St. Nicholas (which have received historical designations by the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation and the National Register of Historic Places), local enthusiasts are working to restore and revive his work. This has included the restoration of 10 of the 25 murals — with plans to complete two more before the end of 2016  – and Phase I implementation of a major LED lighting upgrade. The project is being overseen by the Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka (SPMMMV), an independent non-profit organization with the mission to preserve and raise public awareness about the murals and their significance to Pittsburgh’s history, and their depiction of America’s immigrant experience.

Green Building Alliance joins Millvale sustainability manager Zaheen Hussain and SPMMMV vice president Page Thomas in inviting you to view these murals and learn about the church’s lighting upgrade. Zaheen will provide context and insight into this intersection between art, sustainability and religion, and will offer a preview of other sustainability initiatives taking place all over Millvale. Page will then lead an expert tour of the Vanka murals, and will further describe the goals and progress of the lighting upgrade.

4:00 – 4:15 – Introduction from Zaheen Hussain, sustainability manager for Millvale

4:15 – 5:15 – Murals tour with Page Thomas, VP of the Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka

5:15 – 6:00 – Gather for refreshments, networking, Q&A, and discussion

Learning Objectives

1.Understand the importance of environmental stewardship and energy efficiency in buildings of the faith community

2.Learn about the intriguing history behind the St. Nicholas Vanka murals

3.Gain insight into the relationship between art and light

4.Learn about the unique considerations taken when pursuing green building projects involving art and historical spaces


This event is approved for 1.5 GBCI CEUs and 1.5 AIA HSW hours.

Partnering with USGBC and AIA, GBA makes it easy for our members to report continuing education credits. Please provide your GBCI and/or AIA number so we can auto-report your credits (for applicable events). Non-members can still earn continuing education credits but will need to self-report their GBCI CEUs.


April 20, 2016
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm
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Mary Schrag


St. Nicholas Catholic Church
24 Maryland Avenue
Millvale, 15209 United States
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