I have had the great pleasure of joining a team of local conservators in the Pittsburgh area to work on the murals of Maxo Vanka at the St. Nicholas Croatian Church in Millvale, located just a bridge away from the city of Pittsburgh. Members of the conservation team include: Patricia Buss, Teresa Duff, Cynthia Fiorini, and Rhonda Wozniak. Rikke Foulke, head conservator of the team, has already successfully treated 10 of the murals in the church for a variety of condition issues, with the most intrusive being salt formation due to moisture in the plaster walls. The salts have crystallized on the surface and behind the painted murals, causing paint loss and white encrustations on the surface. The murals currently being treated are located on the ceiling underneath the choir loft. Salt formations have not occurred as of yet, but the murals exhibit extensive instability and scattered areas of loss due to their location over the entrance doors and radiators.
The mural presently undergoing treatment is featured above and depicts one of two battlefield scenes. The imagery of the murals is both biblical in nature and reflects Maxo Vanka's pacifist stance during the first World War. The images also reflect his enduring love for his motherland, Croatia, and many of the murals speak to the effects of war on the Croatian people and humanity in general. The detailed image above depicts perhaps one of the more imposing images of the mural series, Justice. Justice is depicted carrying scales, a sword, and is wearing a gas mask. For more information on the murals' history and background info on Maxo Vanka, please visit the website of the The Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka: http://vankamurals.org/maxo-vanka-life-work/.
As the work must be done on a scaffold to the ceiling, work is slow and methodical. The unstable paint areas must first be consolidated (stabilized) with a dilute adhesive to prevent future paint loss. The surface is then cleaned of black, sooty, surface dirt and inpainted using a reversible and stable medium to minimize the appearance of present losses.
There is currently a Heinz Endowment challenge to raise funds to help conserve the murals and install proper lighting. We hope to complete the conservation of the battlefield murals by next year. Check out the main donation website here: http://vankamurals.org/battlefields-campaign/ and click the button beneath to be directed.