Robert Griffing grew up in Linesville, Pennsylvania, where he roamed the fields and beaches around Pymatuning Lake collecting stone artifacts. At an early age, he gained an appreciation for the area’s history, its natural beauty and the region’s first inhabitants, the Eastern Woodland Indians, which especially fascinated him.
After graduating from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania and a highly successful thirty-year career in commercial art, Griffing returned to the subject of his early fascination, painting the Eastern Woodland Indian of the 18th century. He decided to devote his time and energy to his passion after receiving an enthusiastic response to his early paintings and prints. His work draws attention to a neglected area of our nation’s history, when one culture was being supplanted by another, and great changes were initiated that set the scene for the next hundred years of settlement.
“The Eastern Woodland Indians have been neglected by historians,” Griffing states. “In most schools American history starts at the Revolutionary War. This Indian group was in this region well before the French and Indian War in which Western Pennsylvania played an active role. Everything started with Washington’s presence in Jumonville, which then led to Fort Necessity and then the French and Indian War. My paintings depict the conflicts of the 18th century.”
When it comes to historical accuracy, Griffing treats both sides of the conflict with the same care and precision. The clothing, uniforms, weapons and accoutrements illustrated are all correct and authentic to the period, as well as the backgrounds, such as the forests, the rivers and streams, and the dwellings and fortifications. The accuracy of the paintings comes from Griffing’s love of history, knowledge of the woods and his natural artistic talent. Another element enhancing his artwork is his participation in “living history,” where he is able to actually experience, as closely as possible, living conditions of the past. He believes that, while it is one thing to read about an historic trek or canoe trip, it is much better to experience it yourself, covering the same ground, wearing period clothing and using only authentic gear and weapons. Of re-enactors Griffing says, “Some of my closest friends today are relatively recent acquaintances I have made at re-enactments. To tap into the knowledge they have . . . is very important to me.” In addition to his extensive library of books, historical papers and journals, Griffing is grateful to his historian and re-enactor friends who provide information and act as models for some of the characters in the paintings.
In 1993, US Art magazine listed Griffing as an artist to watch for in 1994. The following year, the same magazine listed him as one of the top 25 selling artists of that year, and 1997 marked the fourth straight year he has made that list. The Fort Pitt Associate and Pennsylvania Historical & Museum Commission with the John Forbes Medal recently honored Griffing.