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Tiger Pillow

Rippling black stripes on a rich orange coat. Gleaming white teeth and a focused gaze. A long tail tucked against a robust body. Most people would immediately recognize this animal as a tiger. But you might be surprised to learn that this ceramic beast—about fifteen inches long—was used as a pillow in 12th-century China. According to Chinese tradition, a pillow could give special qualities to the person who slept on it. Because the tiger has been a powerful symbol in China since ancient times, it made a good pillow.

Tiger Pillow, late 12th century
Stoneware with black and tan glaze over a white slip under a clear glaze

A Place to Rest Your Head
The Power of Pillows
Signs and Symbols

Pillow Pals: What qualities do you associate with tigers? What animal would help you sleep? What animal would be the most comforting? Why? Draw or sculpt a pillow in the shape of your favorite animal.  

A Hard Night's Sleep: Many people are surprised to learn that pillows are sometimes made of hard materials instead of the soft ones common in the United States. How would it feel to sleep on a ceramic pillow or a wood pillow? How do you think you would sleep? What kind of pillow do you prefer?  

Good Night and Good Luck: Ceramic pillows usually had popular songs, Confucian sayings, or poems inscribed on them. What would you like inscribed on your pillow? Write a short poem wishing yourself good luck and a good night’s sleep.  

The Dream Diaries: Sleep and dreams can seem mysterious. What do you think happens when you sleep? What do you think causes dreams? Keep a dream journal for a week. What kinds of dreams did you have? What was your favorite dream? Did things you did during the day affect your dreams?  

Pillow Pile-Up: Using Art Collector, an online tool from ArtsConnectEd, view an online collection of Chinese ceramic pillows. How are these pillows alike? How are they different? Which one is your favorite? Why? Would some pillows be more comfortable than others? Organize the collection by shape, color, or size. Click here to view the collection. Click here to learn more about ArtsConnectEd.  

January 2007