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Seeing is Believing

The work of Bob Millward and Kathleen Werner Millward stands right between the Chinese proverb, “Teachers open the door; you enter by yourself,” and the Gail Godwin quote, “Good teaching is one-fourth preparation and three-fourths theater.”

Bob spent years as a social studies teacher and Kathleen as a history teacher and student of linguistics. These experiences spurred development of a set of tools for teaching history. In this case, they help students to understand the French and Indian War and the Eastern Woodland Indian. It is the Millwards’ passion for the subject matter that makes it exciting, and it is the paintings they have chosen to use that make it come to life.

When they talk about their program, formally called Teaching of History Through the Art of Robert Griffing, the conversation begins with some of the finer points of pedagogy. After all, what would curriculum development be without a glance at the art of teaching?

We Dined in a Hollow Cottonwood Tree

We Dined in a Hollow Cottonwood Tree: During the Celeron Expedition in the summer of 1749, the French were on a mission formulated by the French crown to assert claims to the Ohio Valley by depositing lead plates to mark their territory. As they traveled to Logstown, the party stopped for the night and dined in the enormous tree in the Allegheny Forest. From the diary of Father Joseph Pierre Bonnecamp: “We dined in a hollow cottonwood tree in which twenty-nine men could be ranged side by side.” From the Millwards’ print packet: “Students are always amazed at the size of the tree in this picture.... The massive tree pictured in Griffing’s painting provides the viewer with an enchanting glimpse of what it must have been like to live in Pennsylvania during the eighteenth century, when the Allegheny Forest contained trees big enough to hide a panther or shelter nearly thirty men.”

But, as the conversation moves along, the listener becomes fascinated with the stories the Millwards tell about each Griffing painting, the details that you might miss with a mere cursory glance, and the significance of each scene. You really want to talk about history and all the paintings that line the walls of Bob Millward’s office.

With highly visual media such as television, film, and lifelike videogames surrounding them, it is easy to expect that young students today might be daunted by an era in history that is not extensively, or necessarily accurately, portrayed graphically in textbooks.

Welcome to Logstown

Welcome to Logstown: In 1749, the arrival of the French Celeron Expedition party at Logstown, near present-day Ambridge in Beaver County, began the rivalry between the British and French for control of the Ohio Valley. Logstown, according to a number of historians, was the most important Indian village in the Eastern frontier. The painting also depicts the experiences of the early Jesuit missionaries—and later Moravian missionaries—who ventured into the North American wilderness in the European encroachment on the Native American culture. The missionary in this scene is Father Joseph Pierre Bonnecamp, who was a chaplain, scientist, and skilled cartographer from the Jesuit college at Quebec and who developed the first map of the Ohio Valley. As described by the print packet: “This painting provides an excellent opportunity to discuss culture shock with your students and give them a sense of what both missionaries and Indians might have experienced upon initial contact with each other’s culture.”

Beth Palilla '94, M'97

Beth Palilla ’94, M’97 uses Griffing paintings and real-life artifacts to bring the subject matter to life for her fourth grade students.

“I was attending a superintendent’s conference in Pittsburgh,” said Bob, who is a professor in the Professional Studies in Education Department and coordinator of the education doctoral program in Administration and Leadership Studies. “During the break, I walked down to one of the art studios, and there were three Griffing oils. I was just struck by them—the detail, the accuracy. I had been teaching undergraduates methods in social studies, and the paintings in textbooks usually are not accurate about that era. So, I got Griffing’s telephone number from the curator of the gallery…. I got the idea that we’d make a video to show teachers how they can use Griffing’s paintings to teach.”

“Teachers and students are thirsting for this type of approach,” said Kathleen. “It’s so much different from what they are used to, which is test, test, test. The emphasis always is on the test. If it’s a test, it’s good. If it’s a multiple choice test, it’s even better. And, if there’s a letter grade involved, then that’s the best. They have this conception that an emphasis on testing is improving education. Well, it’s not.”

She pulled out documentation from Harvard University education professor Howard Gardner.

“You can read it right here. People like this have been saying it for years. The brain is always learning. Kids want to learn. If you make learning meaningful, they will be interested.”

Added Bob, “When I talk to my juniors (IUP students), I ask them, ‘What was the most exciting thing you did in social studies?’ They say they went to Fort Ligonier or a speaker came to talk to us, or they’ll say we made a model of a castle, or we did this drama, or we had this debate…. It’s almost always something called cognitive learning activity. It’s taking all this information, the facts—all the information necessary—then doing something with it.

In the Shadow of the King

In the Shadow of the King: The Bringing History to Life print packet provides a description of the scene. “The painting represents the beginning of a new way of life for the white frontier settlers; it sadly marks the end of an era for the Delaware and Shawnee who lived and hunted in these river valleys for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years. As George Irvin writes in The Art of Robert Griffing, ‘The winter of 1763-64 was a grim time for the natives of the Ohio Valley. Their war for independence had left them destitute. While still officially at war, they were never again able to take the field of battle in any strength.’ As the Indians climb the huge bluff overlooking the fort, we can only imagine what was going through their minds…their hearts, no doubt, filled with sadness, their souls bursting with rage.” Fort Pitt is, of course, in the background, at modern day Pittsburgh and the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers.

Kathleen Werner Millward and Bob Millward

Kathleen Werner Millward and Bob Millward

“So, when I’m working with the French and Indian War, we’ll have a court scene—a trial with George Washington as a co-conspirator in the murder of Jumonville. Or, we’ll have Christian Frederick Post, a Moravian missionary who was sent deep into French territory—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, today—to try to persuade the Delaware and Shawnee not to support the French and to remain neutral,” he said. “While we talk about these things, we hook the students up with Griffing paintings. And we use simulation. Fifth graders can sit around an Indian council fire and get an idea of how chiefs debated an issue.”

The Millwards’ project materials have been distributed to a number of teachers within Pennsylvania, and Bob and Kathleen regularly are asked to provide in-service workshops at area school districts. The workshops introduce teachers to Griffing’s paintings, show how to use the paintings in the classroom, and provide the actual visuals used in some hands-on assignments. The materials include a resource guide written by Kathleen, called Thought Provokers: Teaching History Through the Art of Robert Griffing; a video Bob produced called Bringing History to Life Through the Paintings of Robert Griffing; a CD that contains reproductions of the paintings, explanation, and video; and a printed packet of many of the materials found on the CD.

While the project originated with Griffing’s work, the work of other artists, such as John Buxton, is being introduced into the program. Griffing, who lives in the Pittsburgh area, received the John Forbes Medal for his contribution to the study and promotion of eastern frontier history. He returned to painting eighteenth-century scenes and the Eastern Woodland Indian in the 1980s, after a thirty-year career in advertising.

“Formerly dry material becomes an active battlefield with children eagerly participating,” said Beth Palilla, a fourth grade teacher at Penns Manor Elementary School who has used the Millwards’ curriculum for four years. “They retain information because they have lived it through stories and actions. Another advantage is teaching children to use a critical eye with art. The benefits extend beyond the classroom.”

A Warning for General Braddock

Left: A Warning for General Braddock: General Braddock’s chief scout, Christopher Gist; his son, Nathaniel; Scarouady, an Oneida chief; and several Mingo scouts survey a recently abandoned French Indian Camp site. One warning sign is a fresh scalp, hanging from the forked stick in the lower right of the scene. The Mingo shown behind Gist interprets symbols painted on the trees that are meant to frighten Braddock. With the information gathered, Braddock, assuming the French forces were afraid of his advance, developed a sense of false confidence. The rest is history: his forces were decimated as he attempted to advance on Fort Duquesne in 1755, and Braddock was mortally wounded. As painted, Nathaniel Gist was twenty-two years old. He was the same age as George Washington, who was serving as an aide to General Braddock. Washington, Nathaniel Gist, and Gist’s brother, Richard, remained friends the rest of their lives.