Title: Headrest
Date: late 19th century
Artist: Unidentified Yaka artist
Medium: wood with copper nails
6 3/4 x 8 7/8 x 4 3/4 in. (17.1 x 22.5 x 12.1 cm)
Credit Line: Museum Purchase
Object Number: 20:1942
Place associated: Bandundu Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Current Location: Not On View
The primary motif of this headrest is the leopard, an animal associated with kingship. The copper nail heads may symbolize the leopard’s spots. This headrest was kept in the chief’s sleeping room with his other sacred regalia. He would rest his head on the back of the leopard, placed just below his ear, at the junction of the neck and head. In this position the chief would sleep comfortably, protected by the spirit of the leopard supporting his head. Other animals represented here include a bird, located directly below the head of the leopard, and two four-legged animals that may signify the leopard’s prey and, therefore, the king’s enemies.
Frank Crowninshield (1872–1947), New York, NY, USA [1]

- 1942
Primitive Arts, New York, NY

1942 -
Saint Louis Art Museum, purchased from Primitive Arts [2]

[1] A list of objects considered for museum purchase dated March 5, 1942 identifies this object was formerly in the "Frank Crowninshield Collection" [SLAM document files].

[2] An invoice dated March 27, 1942 from Primitive Arts to the City Art Museum documents the purchase of this object, listed as "one African (Bayak culture, Belgain Congo) head-rest with a figure of a mountain lion on a circular base decorated with totemic animals" [SLAM document files]. Minutes of the Administrative Board of Control of the City Art Museum, April 2, 1942.
Exhibition History
Title: African Highlights (2008)
Date: July 2008 - October 2009
Venue: Saint Louis Art Museum
Title: American Furniture & Household Objects
Date: April 9, 1980 – September 7, 1981
Venue: The Indianapolis Museum of Art
Venue: M. H. de Young Memorial Museum, Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco
Venue: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Venue: Brooklyn Museum of Art
Venue: Brooks Memorial Art Gallery
Title: Embroidered Textiles from Greece and the Aegean, Sculpture from West and Central Africa, and Sculpture and Paintings of South and Southeast Asia
Date: July 10, 1969 – September 28, 1969
Venue: City Art Museum of Saint Louis
Title: Exhibition of African Art
Date: February 20 – March 20, 1951
Venue: Scripps College Art Galleries
Publication History
Title: The Saint Louis Art Museum Handbook of the Collections
Editor: Mary Ann Steiner
Publisher: Saint Louis Art Museum
Title: West African Sculpture: Sacred Space, Spirit and Power
Periodical Title: The Saint Louis Art Museum Bulletin
Author: John W. Nunley
Publisher: Saint Louis Art Museum
Title: African Furniture & Household Objects
Year Published: 1980
Title: Saint Louis Art Museum: Handbook of the Collection
Editor: Mary Ann Steiner
Publisher: Saint Louis Art Museum
Title: African Art in American Collections
Year Published: 1988
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