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<< Robyn Horn: Material Illusions

Subtractive Soap Sculptures

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Pieces of soap scattered on a table.


Recommended for ages 6 and up with adult supervision.


MCD is thrilled to welcome Robyn Horn’s Material Illusions (6/25 – 10/30) showcasing the artist’s intricately layered paintings and immense carved wood sculptures. Having worked with wood for 35 years, Horn has honed her subtractive technique, whittling away at the ancient material to transform it into elaborate sculptures.

Horn’s practice is rooted in the natural processes of the chosen material. Her consciousness of the passage of time and natural processes such as weathering, erosion, and decay inform her tool choices and allow her to select the right wood at the right time.

Playing with time, this project challenges participants to revisit soap-carving memories from their childhood and borrow Horn’s subtractive approach to sculpt soap into something new. Plus, continue to explore the themes of erosion and decay by putting your soap sculpture to use as a function object.

Source materials at home or visit the museum to pick up a FREE MakeArt Kit!


Bar of soap

Paper scrap the size of your soap bar

Table covering or work mat


Carving tools such as:

  • Tongue depressor
  • Popsicle stick
  • Notched popsicle stick


  • Protect work surface with mat or table covering 
  • Use a pencil to draw your design onto a sheet of paper the same size as the soap bar.
  • Use pencil or toothpick to etch the design onto one side of the soap bar. 
  • Use carving tools to remove soap from around the edges of the design.
    • Start with a tongue depressor to carve off large pieces of the soap.
    • Use the popsicle stick to remove smaller pieces of soap, carefully working around the edges of your design. 
    • Press a notched popsicle stick into soap to add texture.


  • How does the soap bar respond to different carving tools? Experiment with tools sourced from home such as a straightened-out paper clip or a butter knife.
  • Soap shavings are the byproduct of this project. Piece together the shavings to create a new sculpture, knead them together, or melt the chunks to create a smaller bar of soap. 


  • What wood will work? Learn more about Horn’s practice, inspiration, and materials in her interview with The Arkansas Art Scene Blog
  • Robyn Horn’s work is informed by their deep appreciation for how wood transforms over time. Revisit our past exhibition Design by Time (4/1/21 – 8/15/21) to explore how artists from around the world use time as a design element. 
  • Soap carving hails from Thailand and stems from the tradition of sculpting fruit and vegetables. Read more about the practice and marvel at the work of Thai artist Narongkas Bia Kasinsit in Jessica Steward’s article for My Modern Met.


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