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African Art

Stool or Headrest

late 19th–early 20th century

Wood, metal, and pigment

8 7/8 × 6 11/16 × 20 1/4 in. (22.5 × 17 × 51.5 cm)
Charles B. Benenson, B.A. 1933, Collection
Stools and headrests have been used all over Africa as prestige items. Chiefs and important persons would sit on stools on special occasions, and both men and women of wealth and status used headrests when lying down in order to preserve their elaborate hair constructions. But, for the most part, the objects were simply displayed at public ceremonies to enhance the awesome presence of their owners. In this example, the natural bend of the tree branch is used to suggest the body of a lion with a crook in the hind leg. The combination of the lion’s body with the human head may refer to the chief’s symbolic identification with this animal.
South Africa
19th–20th century

George Ortiz, Geneva: unknown dates
Michael Oliver, New York: unknown date-Oct. 9, 1981
Charles B. Benenson Collection, donated to Yale University Art Gallery in 2004


Susan Vogel and Jerry L. Thompson, Closeup: Lessons in the Art of Seeing African Sculpture from an American Collection and the Horstmann Collection, exh. cat. (New York: Museum for African Art, 1990), 179, fig. 110.

“Acquisitions, July 1, 2005–June 30, 2006,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2006): 222.

Frederick John Lamp, “Charles Benenson and His Legacy of African Art to Yale,” Yale University Art Gallery Bulletin (2004): 35, ill.

Warren M. Robbins and Nancy Ingram Nooter, African Art in American Collections (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1989), 520, fig. 1369.

Richard Barnes, “Objects of Desire,” Yale Alumni Magazine (September/October 2004): 37, ill.

Frederick John Lamp, “Hot Space, Cool Space: The Reinstallation of the African Art Collection in the Louis Kahn Building at Yale University,” African Arts 40 (Summer 2007): 48–49, fig. 26.

Frederick John Lamp, Amanda Maples, and Laura M. Smalligan, Accumulating Histories: African Art from the Charles B. Benenson Collection at the Yale University Art Gallery (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Art Gallery, 2012), 263, ill.

Note: This electronic record was created from historic documentation that does not necessarily reflect the Yale University Art Gallery’s complete or current knowledge about the object. Review and updating of such records is ongoing.