John Daum is now in his 21st year as a revered fifth-grade teacher at The Hill School, and his passion for educating his students remains at a stratospheric level. His charges are equally thrilled to be in his eclectic classroom, and never mind that for several weeks a year, what they’re learning definitely is Greek to all of them.
Several years ago, Daum met a Hill parent who collects Greek artifacts. Daum has been fascinated with the subject ever since. So much so that he’s incorporated much of what he’s learned into his own unique curriculum, with the added benefit of the children having the opportunity to get up close and personal with so many priceless pieces of ancient art.
“We’re opening up their eyes to something most children never really get to see,” Daum said, sitting in his classroom filled with all manner of posters, photographs, maps, sculpture, and even a few copied pieces of the Greek art they are studying.
“The Greeks left almost nothing behind,” he continued. “Most of their art was bronze and many of those statues were eventually melted down for weapons. The Parthenon was used by the Ottoman Turks to store gunpowder. A cannonball hit it in 1687 and pretty much destroyed it.”
Still, many objects have survived, including a number of vases and other meticulously painted and decorated pottery. Some of those pieces now belong to that Hill parent, who prefers to remain anonymous. That’s how he’s identified as a major lender to an exhibit now on display at Middleburg’s National Sporting Library and Museum (NSLM).
It’s called “The Horse in Ancient Greek Art,” and is curated by Nicole Stribling, whose husband, Bee, is a fourth-grade teacher at Hill. The exhibit runs through January 14, and then moves to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond from February 17 to July 8.
Thanks to Art Department Chair Linda Conti, Daum’s students and every Hill class from Junior Kindergarten through 8th grade have visited the NSLM, with Anne Marie Barnes, the Clarice, and Robert H. Smith Educator, providing walking tours of the illuminating show. A third of the 60-piece museum exhibit comes from that Hill parent’s private collection.
“There’s no real visual record of that period,” Daum said. “About the only thing we have left is the Greek pots and pottery. When you look at them, it’s a visual history of Greek life. How did they dress, what did their horses look like, what did the Trojan War look like, what did they think their gods looked like? This is a link to a world that’s gone.”
Daum said his students are fascinated by the scenes of every-day life from an era that stretches all the way back to 3,200 years BC. The fact that many of these objects survived over the years is also intriguing to the children of the 21st century.
“What did they use to drink their orange juice in the morning?” Daum said. “Some child was at the breakfast table 2,000 years ago and they used these things. They had stories on them. They told about their history, their customs, and their gods. But they were also used and made by hand and painted by hand. It’s exciting for the students to see it.”
“This exhibit is something we have wanted to do for a long time,” Nicole Stribling said. “It expands the scope and context of what we’re trying to do. It puts the equestrian world in a much broader time frame. It started as a smaller exhibit, but the more we researched, the more we realized there was great enthusiasm for the subject.”
There are 60 objects in the NSLM exhibit, many lent by museums, universities and private collectors.
“Anne Marie (Barnes) reached out to all the schools,” Stribling added. “She met with Linda Conti (Hill’s long-time Art Department Chair) and (Head of School) Treavor Lord. Every grade is exposed to the subject, and it’s particularly relevant to John Daum’s class. He’s always taught Greek history, and I love that they do it.”
Daum’s students also have been invited to that Hill parent’s home, offering more teachable moments.
“The kids sit with the pieces all around them,” Daum said. “He allows them to hold them, touch them, and they’re holding something that goes back to the Parthenon. The students love it because they can relate to how people lived back then. At this age, if you can tell a story, you get them hooked. They love knowing these were real people. It’s very cool.”