Communing with the past in the present

Get to know Becky Gaugler, Director of Education and Interpretation at the Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka

Remake Learning hosts free, open gatherings designed to forge and develop relationships between the educators, innovators, and change agents that make up the Remake Learning Network. Our meetups provide an opportunity for small groups of educators and innovators to connect in unique learning environments across the region.

In March, network members met at St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale for a tour of the murals that adorn the church interiors. Painted in the 1930s and 1940s by Croatian-American artist Maxo Vanka, the murals depict scenes of social struggle and interpretations of traditional Christian imagery. Since the 1990s, the Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka has been raising awareness and educating the public about the murals and their significance.

Becky Gaugler is the Director of Education and Interpretation at the Society. We asked Becky about the murals’ place in Pittsburgh’s art and culture landscape and the recent Remake Learning meetup to tour the murals.

A head-and-shoulders portrait of Becky Gaugler
Becky Gaugler / Photo by Ben Filio for Remake Learning

Tell us about yourself and your organization. Who are you? How have you engaged with remake learning?

My name is Becky Gaugler. I’m a native Pittsburgher who boomeranged back to my hometown in 2009. I currently live in Lawrenceville with my husband, two school-age daughters, three cats, and a growing number of plants.

I’m the Director of Education and Interpretation at the Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka. I work for the non-profit dedicated to the Murals of the Croatian artist Maxo Vanka that are located on the walls of the St. Nicholas Croatian church in Millvale. The church is visible from rt. 28!

I’ve been a museum educator for over 20 years! I have a BA and MA in art history, but quickly moved into museum education where I found a love of connecting audiences with works of art, interesting objects, stories, and each other.

When I returned to Pittsburgh in 2009, I was working for Carnegie Museum of Art where I first became involved with the people and organizations that became Remake Learning! I also co-founded and co-chaired the Pittsburgh Museum Educators Roundtable (PittMER) that worked to connect regional educators – and similarly shared resources and information about Remake.

A few weeks ago we hosted a small, but intimate group of educators at the Vanka Murals for a RL program! Not only did we explore the stories and imagery in the Murals, but discussed their relevance to each of us, and to the world today.

Tell us about your organization. What is it all about? What does it do?

Maxo Vanka Murals provide a unique opportunity for visitors of all ages to learn, connect, and create. We build our programs using a co-created social justice framework that centers and prioritizes community, equity, and accessibility. We offer school & youth field trips, multigenerational programs, and teacher/educator professional development opportunities.

It is still an active Catholic church, but I work for the non-profit that was founded in the early 1990s to preserve the Murals. We contract a lot of individuals to work in various areas – including conservation and education.

Share something with the network. What do you want network members to know about you and your org?

We have an opportunity coming up – the Vanka Block Party – on Sunday, April 30 from 11am-4pm. This is a free event for all ages and abilities to discover (or rediscover) the Vanka Murals. It’s a community event that will include food, drinks, music, and artmaking. Pre-registration is encouraged!

We purposely scheduled it during the beginning of the Remake Learning days! We hope you’ll join us – and bring your family and friends.

We also love hosting groups of educators and teachers. It can be a reflective and restorative experience to be with peers, slow down to observe, be creative, and discuss the ideas presented in the murals around the ideas of justice, love, and empathy.

Share your perspective. What are the most important opportunities and challenges for learning in the greater Pittsburgh region?

A challenge – and an opportunity – is for finding the time and place for us to gather in person. Being face to face, in community. Since the pandemic disrupted everything. We’re more in need than ever of those chances to gather, slow down, and collectively reflect & create. This isn’t necessarily specific to Pittsburgh, but there are a lot of great organizations, individuals, and experiences here in our region that provide great opportunities to gather. Both for educators, as well as our students and children! We hope the Vanka Murals are a place for all of these things to happen!

Share your vision. What’s your vision for the future of learning in the greater Pittsburgh region?

My vision is for a more equitable and just society where every individual of any age has the opportunities to learn, grow, and thrive. I envision a future where we are all more empathetic and caring of each other and our environment.
A future of learning where we don’t gauge success by numbers or statistics, but in how we treat one another and support those who need it the most. Small stories of joy and connection that can be transformative, rather than grand gestures that don’t mean much in the long term.

Anything else you would like to share?

There is nothing like being in the church to see these Murals in person. Photographs can give you an idea just how unique and unusual Vanka’s works are, but seeing them in person gives you a feeling of immersion and understanding why they’re a national treasure!

If you can’t make the Remake Learnings Days event, we also have public tours on Saturdays at 11am and 12:30 pm and Monday evenings at 6:30pm. Register online!