Making a Simple Carving

Lesson Plan


Students will practice being carvers by imagining what kind of materials and tools the artist used to create this carved wooden Leg, making a rough sketch of a simple design and carving the design on a bar of soap.

Intended Age Group

Early childhood (ages 3-5)

Length of Lesson

One 30 minute lesson

Standards Area

Visual Arts


Students will be able to:

  • hypothesize what materials the artist used to create the carved wooden Leg;
  • engage in a planning process before creating a work of art;
  • create a simple carved surface on a bar of soap; and
  • explore the texture of a carved surface.


  1. Warm-up: Encourage children to show you all the different ways their legs can move.
  2. Have children look closely at the Polynesian Leg. What kind of patterns and shapes do they see? What do they think the wooden Leg would feel like if they could touch it? Ask children if they think it was easy or difficult for the artist to carve the shapes in the Leg. What kinds of materials do they think the artist used to make this carving?
  3. Explain to children that artists often plan their designs ahead of time so that they can successfully create the image that they want to. Tell children that they will be carving a piece of soap much like the artist carved the wooden Leg, but first they will create a rough sketch of their design.
  4. Encourage children to draw 2 or 3 simple designs on a piece of paper, then choose the one they like best and have them “copy” this design by carving it into piece of soap using an old pencil (if bars of soap are not available, you can have the children paint the design on a piece of construction paper). When the children have finished, have them rub their hands on the soap carving and describe what it feels like.
  5. Display the soap carvings in a prominent area in the classroom and encourage the students to take them when they wash their hands as a reminder of how a carving feels.


  • Paper and pencils for drawing rough sketches
  • One new bar of soap and one used pencil for each child
  • About the Art section on the Polynesian Leg
  • Optional: tempera paint and construction paper
  • One color copy of the Leg for every four students, or the ability to project the image onto a wall or screen


CO Standards

  • Visual Arts
    • Invent and Discover to Create
    • Observe and Learn to Comprehend
    • Relate and Connect to Transfer
  • Language Arts
    • Oral Expression and Listening

21st Century Skills

  • Critical Thinking & Reasoning
  • Information Literacy
  • Invention
  • Self-Direction

About the Art



Late 1800s

Artist not known, Marquesas Islands, Polynesia

Who Made It?

This wooden leg was carved by an artist from the Marquesas [mar-KAY-zas] Islands, a group of volcanic islands in French Polynesia, located in the Pacific Ocean. The Marquesas are the farthest group of islands from any continent. In terms of the arts, they are well-known for their tattoo art, as well as for their carvings in wood, bone, and shell. The process of tattooing in the Marquesas was treated as a ritual and the tattoo artist was a highly skilled artisan. Even today, many Marquesans beautify their bodies, proclaim their identities, and preserve their memories and experiences with tattoos.

What Inspired It?

We’re not sure why this particular object was created. It’s possible that it served as the leg for a specially constructed raised bed, made only for certain priests to lie on following the performance of important sacrifices. Tattoos were believed to protect a person’s body from harm and this belief applied to objects as well. Tattooing the bed’s leg may have served to protect these priests’ tapu, or sacred, state by preventing contact with the earth. This leg may also have been a model placed outside of a tattoo shop, advertising the services of the artist inside.

In the past, tattooing was a major art form in the Marquesas Islands and it inevitably influenced other art forms. The tattooing style of the Marquesas was the most elaborate in all of Polynesia. Tattoo images were marks of beauty as well as a reflection of knowledge and cultural beliefs. They also signaled a person’s social status—a higher ranking individual would have more tattoos than an individual of a lesser rank. All-over tattooing was a development unique to this area. Both males and females were tattooed, although only men covered their bodies from head to toe. Designs were also different for women and men.


Tattoo Imagery
Tattoo Imagery

Tattoo images have been carved all around the circumference of the wooden leg. The carving is particularly detailed on the foot.


The large crack down the front of the leg happened before the leg came into the Denver Art Museum’s possession. It is evidence of curing of the wood as it aged.

Wooden Peg
Wooden Peg

The peg, or wooden block at the top of the leg tells us that it may have been attached to something else.

Funding for lesson plans provided by a grant from the Morgridge Family Foundation. Additional funding provided by the William Randolph Hearst Endowment for Education Programs, and Xcel Energy Foundation. We thank our colleagues at the University of Denver Morgridge College of Education.