A headrest made by a South African Shona sculptor recently sold at auction for much more than its estimated sales price. The headrest was part of a collection of tribal items belonging to Suffolk resident Oliver Miller.
The auction was only the second to be held by Bishop & Miller in Stowmarket, proving to be a success. The headrest, made of hardwood and six inches high, is thought to date back to the late 19th century. The headrest is typical of those made by Shona craftsmen in Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa. In addition to being ornamental, the elaborate headrests serve a practical purpose for the Shona men; they keep their braided hair free from dust and soil, maintaining its appearance. A hardwood headrest is also the ideal place for them to rest their heads.
The headrests are considered to be among the most important possessions for Shona people, and many have supernatural overtones. It is believed that they can be used as a tool to help communicate with the spirits of the dead whilst dreaming. The animals which are thought to be best for communicating with long gone ancestors are often used to form the headrest, perhaps an antelope, gazelle or elephant. The antique sold to a UK buyer for £23,000, despite the fierce phone bidding war.
Many antiques made in the UK are decorative, although they don’t have spiritual connections. Collectors will find a comfortable headrest among good quality antique bedroom furniture.
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