Maurer was director of the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor from 1981 until he rejoined The Minneapolis Institute of Arts in 1988 as director. While at Michigan, he became a tenured professor of art history and also chaired the Graduate Program in Museum Practice.
Headrests have been considered by many to be utilitarian or ethnographic, as some art collectors marginalize them with this descriptive category. But markets do mature and come to understand as Marc Ginzberg and Bill Dewey have taught us that not all great works are figurative. I have selected below 3 headrests all from the southern regions of Africa that are to some degree related by geographical style and function. To the African, this small object can become imbued with the spirit of the owner. They can be prestige items and they can be objects through which an ancestor can be contacted. They certainly indicated status of the owner and as such were a reflection of wealth, power, and influence. Functionally they did help keep the coiffure off the ground during sleep.
We can see that the Shona, Zulu, and Tsonga all had a tradition of burying some headrests with their original owners. Through use, burying, normal wear and tear and museum acquisitions, there are fewer and fewer quality headrests on the market. The Joss and Maurer collections are already unique in their focus and quality.