Lesson submitted by Susan Anderson (Art teacher) of Northeast Range School.

American Indian art can be found in the rock art as petroglyphs (carvings on rock walls) or pictographs (paintings on rock walls) in hundreds of locations in the state of Minnesota. Nearly 2,000 figures were carved into the rock over a period of 5,000 years in the forested area of Minnesota. These paintings and carvings are largely of forest animals such as deer, caribou, moose, bear and rabbits. Human figures, often pictured as groups in a canoe also appear as well as the Thunderbird, Serpent, and Panther motifs. The latter group figure appears prominently in American Indian oral traditions and spiritual beliefs. One group of figures found at Hegman Lake near Ely, Minnesota is especially intriguing. A large human figure with outstretched hands appears beside a moose and a smaller fur-bearing animal. Carl Gawboy, an Anishinabe artist, has suggested that this assemblage represents the constellations as they appear shortly before winter. The pictograph may have served as a calendar.

Materials Needed


Art Materials


Activity Process


Show Google images of pictographs found in or near your region (in this case, in Northern Minnesota). View a DVD on Carl Gawboy and his interpretation of the pictographs at Hegman Lake. Invite older students to read the research paper, Visions in Stone.We can speculate about what these carvings may have meant to the people who created them. One possibility is that they recorded actual events in the lives of the hunters or people groups. Another possibility is that they were for sacred ceremonies or to show prescriptions for healing or served as a calendar.


Demonstrate making stencils on sandpaper.


  1. After sharing the resource materials of this lesson plan, have students discuss what these carvings may have meant to those who created them.
  2. Using the Natural Pigments link or another resource, talk about how ancient people made paint. Share that, for simplicity's sake, we are going to use natural colored oil pastels (black, brown, tan, ocre, brick, cinnamon, white, etc.) for this lesson.
  3. Invite students to practice stenciling with oil pastels on tan paper with the Hegman Lake Pictographs provided.
  4. After practicing on tan paper, have students transfer their stencil designs onto sandpaper. Sandpaper will give the texture of a rock and make the stencil look like a pictograph.

Students can use a variety of earth colors to create a stone texture and pictograph that resembles the Minnesota examples they have seen.


Either before or after the pictograph making, students can create a short story about their pictographs. Because there is so much speculation about the meanings of pictographs, it is good for students to think about what they would say, interpret or want to share about their image.

Another option could be that students try to interpret another student's pictograph without knowing exactly what it was created to mean. This allows the students to think about ways images convey a story, and ways that visual imagery translates to text.


Vocabulary Words


The pictographs look great when done. The simple shapes and forms are very strong visuals and the students enjoyed hearing the various stories others were attempting to tell in their pictograph compositions. The mystery and intrigue was a real motivator for students in this lesson!

Grade Levels

Primary Content Areas

American Indian Learner Outcomes

Content Standards



Social Studies