Rikke Foulke
Rikke Foulke

Inside Millvale’s historic St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church, you’ll discover one of Pittsburgh’s greatest cultural treasures — the breathtaking “Gift to America” murals by Croatian immigrant Maxo Vanka. North Side resident Rikke Foulke leads the conservation efforts to preserve them. As president of Foulke Fine Art Conservation, Rikke has worked with museums around the globe — from Munich’s Lenbachhaus to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.

What upcoming events are you excited to attend?

On March 22, The Society to Preserve the Millvale Murals of Maxo Vanka (SPMMMV) is hosting its first Vanka Lectures event at St. Nicholas Croatian Catholic Church in Millvale — home to Maxo Vanka’s famed murals. Authors Michael Cary, Tim Kelly and Margaret Power will discuss the similarities between the history of a small New Deal community in Westmoreland County and that of the Millvale Murals.

I am also looking forward to SPMMMV’s 5th annual Cocktails & Conservation event on April 20. This year, the gala is centered around “The Art of Social Justice.” We hope to see everyone out for an evening of celebrating Maxo Vanka’s works.

Best part of your job?

There are so many great aspects of my work — it is never boring! Whether it’s the murals or working on paintings in my studio, I enjoy working with art. Working on the murals is a great way to spend time with my talented friends and colleagues. As an adjunct professor at the University of Pittsburgh, I love sharing my appreciation and enthusiasm for art with students and teaching them to look at art objects the way I see them.

Rikke speaking at a Cocktails & Conservation event. Photo: Mark Simpson Photography.

What’s your big idea for Pittsburgh?

I would love to see expanded transportation in the city. A few years ago when the lottery was $1.5 billion, I planned to fund a rail system to the airport. Otherwise, it would be great to bring back the trolleys!

What is the most remarkable thing you have discovered while working on the Maxo Vanka murals?

The messages in Maxo’s murals are timeless. There are times when all of us might feel like an immigrant — or an outsider trying to “fit in.” Disparities between the rich and poor are just as present as they were when Maxo painted in 1937/41. Maxo includes images of nature: birds, insects and flowers in so many murals; even when he captures the horrors of war, it makes me reflect on the single flower in Picasso’s “Guernica” of the same year. Vanka, like Picasso, placed a token of hope in a seemingly dark painting.

What book is on your nightstand or in your e-reader right now?

I am reading “Masterpieces” by Dianne Dwyer Modestini, my paintings conservation professor at New York University. I’m also reading “Francesco Squarcione: Pictorum Gymnasiarcha Singularis,” a history of early Italian painters, and “Art Criticism from a Laboratory” by Alan Burroughs.

Bridge you LOVE to walk or bike over?

16th Street Bridge.

Rikke at the Preservation Fair: Saving Family Treasures at Carnegie Music Hall, where SPMMV received the Chairman’s Award from Preservation Pennsylvania. Photo by Rhonda Wozniak.

Besides the essentials (key, wallet, phone), what do you always carry with you?

You might find any of the following examination tools: measuring tape, a magnification loupe or lens, a bamboo stick, digital color card, a size 000 brush, maybe a screwdriver, and right now I think there are two tubes of titanium white gouache in my bag.

We arrive for dinner. What’s on the menu?

My signature pizza with bubbles in the crust, topped with pears, caramelized onions, Gruyère, rosemary and chorizo.

What Pittsburgh museum do you like the most?

I like them ALL! But if I have to choose, I’d say Carnegie Museum of Art, Senator John Heinz History Center, the Warhol and The Frick Pittsburgh.

What is one thing that would surprise Pittsburghers most about you?

I imagined in high school that I would be studying biology and genetics, but took an art class and got distracted.

Best day-trip escape from the city?

My husband and I enjoy windsurfing, hiking, picnicking and the beautiful bike trails at Lake Arthur/Moraine State Park.

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Jennifer Baron

Jennifer has worked at the Mattress Factory, Brooklyn Museum of Art and Dahesh Museum of Art and is co-author of Pittsburgh Signs Project: 250 Signs of Western Pennsylvania. She also is co-coordinator...