Tattooed Wooden Leg
Marquesan artist, Tattooed Wooden Leg, Early 1800s. Wood; 22⅝ x 6 x 7¾ in. Denver Art Museum: Native Arts acquisition funds, 1948.795. Photography © Denver Art Museum
Body tattoos were a highly regarded form of body ornamentation in Polynesia, with the most elaborate found in the Marquesas. Men often were almost completely covered with geometric and curvilinear designs created by trained and skilled specialists.
The exact function of this wooden leg is not known today. Two very different theories exist: one, that it served as a design model in a tattoo artist's studio to show off a range of designs the artist could create; and two, that it was made as a decorative table leg. No matter what its original purpose was, it is extremely rare and is one of only thirteen known to exist today.