Menu Contact/Location

Art appreciation

By Alice T. Carter
Tuesday, May 6, 2008 

Diane Novosel has plans to shed light on a local art treasure in ways both literal and metaphoric.As the chairwoman of The Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka, Novosel is producing “Gift to America,” a play that celebrates the murals that adorn the walls and ceilings of St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale.

“I recognize (the murals) as the art treasure that it is, and really feel duty-bound to step up to the plate and do something,” says Novosel, a resident of Leechburg.

Beginning Wednesday, four actors will perform a 60-minute staged reading of David Demarest’s “Gift to America,” which was first staged at the church in 1981. The readings will be accompanied by interludes of recorded Croatian and church-related music.

In addition to raising money to properly preserve and light the murals, Novosel hopes the performances increase local awareness and appreciation for the paintings. A question-and-answer period and an opportunity to examine the murals will follow the performance.Vanka’s murals have been part of Novosel’s life since her youth, when her family lived in Lawrenceville and she attended both church and school as a parishioner at St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church.

“They always fascinated me — probably terrorized me — as a grade-school student,” says Novosel, who found her appreciation for the works growing as she grew older.

Painted in the late 1930s and early 1940s, Vanka’s murals depict Croatian peasants who left their homeland and farms to seek a better life in factories and mills in the United States. The native Croatian’s dark, dramatic and sometimes horrific scenes convey his beliefs, which were pro-labor and anti-war.

“(The murals) are certainly unique in Pittsburgh, and we feel they are of national significance,” says Arthur Ziegler, president of the Pittsburgh History and Landmarks Foundation. “They express the concerns of working people of the times, and we would hope they could be preserved and restored and raise the national awareness of them.”

Geoffrey Hitch, an adjunct professor who teaches business acting at the Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business, will direct “Gift to America,” as he did when it was performed in 1981.

Mike Sambol of Shaler, former choir director at St. Nicholas, will appear as Father Zagar, the pastor at St. Nicholas who originally commissioned the murals.

David Crawford of Squirrel Hill will play Maxo Vanka, and the unnamed Female Voices will be represented by Katherine Carlson of Highland Park and Crystal Manich, a former Mt. Lebanon resident who now is a New York-based actress.

Hitch emphasizes that it’s a production that focuses its attention more on the murals than the characters and actors.

“We’re not even lighting the actors. We’re lighting the murals,” he says. “This is not character acting. The acting is more the sense of being a guide to the murals. We hope the awareness of the actors is secondary to (awareness of) the murals. The main characters are the murals.”


Alice T. Carter can be reached at acarter@tribweb.comor 412-320-7808. 

Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation

100 West Station Square Drive, Suite 450

Pittsburgh, PA 15219

Phone: 412-471-5808  |  Fax: 412-471-1633