Sometimes things go like you want them to and sometimes they just don't. And then again if they don't go like you want them to sometimes it's a good thing and sometimes not so much. We had a little bit from all of this today.
When we meet people here they are quite impressed how much we get around town, while most Pittsburghers are not really fans of neighborhood jumping and river crossing. We did river - the Allegheny to be specific - crossing again today. Early in the morning we went to Millvale and started the day with a breakfast at Pamela's. I had the famous strawberry shortcakes and Gabi had an omelette with the equally famous potatoes. It was really good and I get why lots of people are so crazy about breakfast there - we just should have shared one. It was embarrassing how much food we had to leave on the plates.
It's always amazing to see how diverse the neighborhoods in Pittsburgh are - and in this case it is even more than just a hood - Millvale is its own little town that looks again totally different compared to all parts of Pittsburgh we have seen before and you can see how much energy the residents put into their community to rebuilt and reconstruct it especially after a flood a couple of years ago caused a lot of damage.
Our reasons to go to Millvale were first of all the St. Nicholas Croatian Church and the murals of Croatian artist Maxo Vanka inside. When we finally found our way up the hill the lot of the church packed and the church yard crowded with very Croatian looking people. We met our tour guide - Millvale native, historian and former registrar of the Frick Collection in New York, William - Bill - Stout and he told us that one member of the Croatian community just died and that the funeral had to be done right away since the holy Easter days are just ahead of us and no funeral mess could be held in these days. We had to postpone our tour to the Vanka Murals for an hour and Bill used the time to show us around Millvale, which was totally unplanned but added so much value to our visit. We learned a lot about the little town and not in a dry history lesson type of learning but by having a nice walk listening to Bill sharing his knowledge as well as personal memories and childhood stories. We really liked it up there - Millvale has a special atmosphere and spirit.
When we came back to the church the funeral was over and we could finally see the murals. Maxo Vanka was a Croatian artist who lived in New York and came to Pittsburgh first in 1937 on request of Father Albert Zagar, the priest of the St. Nicholas Croatian Church in Millvale. Father Zagar did not like his church to be white from the inside and when he saw some of Vanka's pieces he decided that this Croatian painter was the right choice to give his church a whole new inside design and Vanka agreed. In the following years Vanka completed his work in the church in a couple of painting sessions.
The themes of his murals are of course classic religious scenes but also very intense scenarios taken right out of the life of the Croatian immigrants - contrasting their rural life in the old and the hard industrial worker one in the new world. Vanka, who was married to Jewish lady, also reflect the political situation of his time - from the mourning mother of a dead soldier to one of the most impressive pictures in the church: a dark angel symbolizing "Injustice" who is wearing a gas mask.
The light in the church is very difficult for making pictures and so we do not upload here too much, but you for further information and most importantly detailed pictures go to http://www.vankamurals.org.
We were very, very impressed by the powerful intensity of the murals and the way Vanka used to not only tell pure religious stories but capture the daily pains of living far from the motherland and work hard in the heavy industry or serving in a war. It was also extremely interesting to see this all in the Croatian context and with all the Croatian writing as an element of his art as well as details like the traditional clothes of the characters in his pictures representing people from different regions in Croatia.
Bill btw could explain us also why the Croatian left not such a deep footprint in the Pittsburgh city history than other ethnic communities. He told us, that in most cases the 2nd generation of Croatian immigrants left Pittsburgh already for cities like Chicago with a much stronger Croatian community.
The Vanka Murals were really overwhelming and when we drove down to the Warhol Museum we first needed a break and went on to the bridge. I have to say that I deeply LOVE the three sisters (Rachel Carson, Andy Warhol and Roberto Clemente Bridge) and Pittsburgh looks really pretty from there - especially on such a summer like day.
About the Warhol Museum I already wrote already last year and you can read it here. For Gabi it was the first visit and she also liked the museum a lot. My favorites - the silver clouds - also left a deep impression with her. We also made the great picture right at the top of this post in the photo machine down at the basement of the museum.
It was pretty amazing to see how different the Warhol Museum is compared to the New Museum in New York. At the New Museum was no place to rest, no way to at least for some minutes LIVE with the art. The Warhol on the other hand has several places that invite you to rest and stay and think. We even found an especially nice place where we could sit down comfortably - surrounded by the art - and talk about all kinds of things.
After the Warhol Museum we had planned to go to the National Aviary but I had to cancel that because we were totally out of schedule due to the 1.5 extra hours we had spent in Millvale. That hurt a little but rushing does not make sense in an art collection and so the Aviary is now on my bucket list for next year and the tour of the murals was definitely worth it.
What we initially did NOT cancel was our visit at the Mattress Factory, but this time Suzy, the GPS, screwed it up again. She got all confused told me to stay longer at a certain road than I should have and so I ended up on the freeway stuck in a mixture of building site and rush hour. And there it went ... our time for the Mattress Factory . It got so late that we could do nothing more than just drive home. That was the part when things do not go like they should and it is totally NOT appreciated.
The end of the day was then again much better. We had an absolutely FANTASTIC dinner together with food bloggers and friends James and Becky at "Salt of the Earth". I had heard so much about the place that I really had to try it myself and it was indeed wonderful! We shared our food with each other - especially the starters and desserts (S'MORES!) and really none of the dishes did not taste interesting and fantastic. HAPPY END!
The Vanka Murals
The Andy Warhol Bridge against an unreal blue sky
All Polaroids by Gabrijela Obert