Headrests from the Fowler Museum’s Jerome L. Joss Collection
Sept. 7 - Nov. 30, 2008
The William D. Cannon Art Gallery presents "Sleeping Beauties: Headrests from the Jerome L. Joss Collection at the Fowler Museum," an exhibition of more than 120 exquisite headrests drew from the extraordinary collection of Jerome L. Joss, the originator of the name "Sealy Posturepedic." The exhibition was organized by the Fowler Museum at UCLA, the permanent repository of the Joss Collection.
In the Marungu and Uguha (the southern and northern Tabwa lands within Zaire), the natives’ monumental coiffures do not do well in contact with (sleeping) mats – the beads break and the horns (of woven hair) are deformed. These hair styles and designs are far too complex to redo each day, so those wearing them preserve them by sleeping with their necks lying on little wooden supports. Some of these pillows are very simple, with a small horizontal piece of wood mounted on a single foot, the whole thing being carved rather simply from the same block of wood. Others, though, are beautifully and artistically carved. And the magical medicines (dawa) attached to the pillows are intended to bring agreeable dreams to that person.
Typically seen as modest objects with a simple function – to support the head during sleep – headrests provide a superb study of the marriage of form and function. Although most of the headrests are only four to six inches high, they reflect the aesthetics of their cultures and function in symbolic as well as utilitarian ways. This exhibition, with includes examples from Africa, Asia and Oceania – the three major regions where the rigid pillow has been a staple of domestic furniture – ranges from polished Zulu headrests carved into the shapes of animals to glazed ceramic pillows from China to open-plaited rattan neck-rests from Japan.
The collection is all the more amazing considering that it was assembled in approximately ten years. Jerome Joss’ generosity in donating his collection to UCLA’s Fowler Museum of Cultural History, which is now bringing it to the attention of the broader public through publication of catalogues and traveling exhibitions, will encourage further scholarship and appreciation of headrests in general.