Lost Porcelain Studios: Cybis, Part Two (Birds, Flowers, and Decorative Accessories)

Almost all of the porcelains shown in this second part of my Cybis retrospective date from 1960 and later. These all have the ‘look’ that most people associate with items from Cybis, Boehm, Ispanky, and the host of other studio names that populated the burgeoning 1960s-1980s art porcelain collector market.

Cybis Birds (1950s through the 1980s)

I’m actually going to begin this section with a few 1950s pieces, in order to illustrate the difference between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Cybis birds.
I mentioned in the 1950s section of Part One that almost all Cybis pieces during that decade were cast from molds the studio bought wholesale, and the birds were no exception. The same Holland Mold Company mold was used for both the Tree Sparrow and the Palm Warbler. The glazed finish on the sparrow piece indicates that it was made during the early to mid 1950s. The base section also has the ‘look’ of a commercial mold. Everything on this piece was mold-cast except for the flower and the “moss” decorating one end. In contrast, the warbler piece is all bisque (matte) except for some light glazing on the bird’s orange cap and on the leaves. The leaves and flowers are handmade, and the base section mold was probably created at Cybis instead of being ‘bought in.’

The cutoff year for all glazed Cybis pieces appears to have been 1957, which would coincide with the death of Boleslaw Cybis and the handing over of the studio to his protégé, Marylin Chorlton. There are no known Cybis introductions after 1957 that are glazed.
The glazed finish on the Western Tanagers shows that this was made in the early-to-mid-1950s. One of the bird molds is the same as the Tree Sparrow and Palm Warbler; the open-winged bird is another Holland Mold that the studio later utilized within two mid-1960s sculptures.
Even without knowing via Cybis records that Bluebird ‘By the Garden Wall’ was a 1952 introduction, its entirely glazed surface would date this to that period. The bird and base molds came from elsewhere; the Cybis artists created and added the ‘wall pieces’, foliage, and paint decoration.

These two 1957 introductions were the first of the bisque-only (no glazed version) bird pieces that were original designs rather than cast from commercial molds. The finish options became “white” (plain white bisque, no color) and “color”, a/k/a “bisque decorated.”  The 4.5” tall, open edition Baby Owl cost $18 at that time. The Turtle Doves ‘Doves of Peace’, a limited edition of 500 for $350, is just about 12” high and wide on its mahogany base. It was the second limited edition ever issued by Cybis, the first having been the Holy Child of Prague in 1956, whose edition of 10 pieces took 17 years to complete because of production challenges. The Turtle Doves was the first normal-marketplace limited edition…although it did take them 13 years to physically complete the edition of 500, and (to their credit) they did keep the retail price the same throughout. Subsequent Cybis limited editions would take much less time but would also see multiple price increases in the interim!

The Little Blue Heron, an edition of 500 from 1960-1971, is 19.5” high. This was a Laszlo Ispanky design, as was his Great Blue Heron a few years later. Ispanky joined the studio in 1960 as its Art Director.

A more affordable open-edition piece was the Wood Wren with Dogwood in 1963. At first Cybis offered it in a choice of plain white bisque or color, as shown. The white one didn’t sell well and was discontinued the following year, but the color version continued to be available until 1981, although the accompanying walnut base was discontinued in 1975. The porcelain piece is 5.5” high.

Some of the 1960s Cybis bird studies were issued and sold as a pair, but that practice didn’t survive the decade. The Blue Headed Vireos with Lilac pair was issued in 1967 with a declared edition of 500 but this was reduced to 275 before the studio stopped production of it in 1975. It was designed by Lynn Klockner Brown who had joined the studio as a flower maker a few years earlier.

Ms. Brown also designed the 1972 Autumn Dogwood with Chickadees, an edition of 500 in 1972. It is 8.75” high and 10” wide. Although the title suggests a plant/floral study, everyone considered this to be a bird piece. A better name would have been “Chickadees on Autumn Dogwood”!

Most of the 1970s and 1980s limited-edition Cybis birds were sculpted by freelance artist Charles Oldham. The 1975 Great Horned Owl ‘KooKoosKoos’ is a great example of his work, and is quite large at 20” high including the base. Cybis produced it in two colorway choices: an edition of 150 for the white owl, but only 50 for the brown. Both colorways sold out in four years.

Oldham’s Kestrel is also impressive, being 18” high with a 14” wingspan. This 1977 introduction was originally slated for a production run of 350 but the edition was halted in 1982 after only 175 had been made.

A typical open-edition bird piece in the late 1970s was Ducklings ‘Buttercup and Daffodil.’  A similar size (5” high) piece during that decade depicted two baby chicks. Both sold for under $200.

The 1980s saw a dramatic slowdown in the number of new Cybis bird designs.
In fact, there were only four limited-edition birds introduced during the 1980s: the Australian Sulphur Crested Cockatoos by Susan Eaton (modeled after her own birds) in 1984, the Gyrfalcon by Charles Oldham in 1987, a pair of swans (shown above) in 1988, and a screech owl family by an unknown (to me) sculptor in the mid-1980s. The Swans in Motion was the studio’s final limited edition bird offering. There were 13 open-edition birds introduced during the 1980s but fewer than half of those were original (new) designs rather than a slight re-working of a previously introduced piece.

All of the Cybis birds can be seen in chronological order on my Cybis Archive site, in the Early Birds and Later Birds posts. Owls, being such special creatures, have their own post! 😀

Cybis Flowers (1960s through the 1980s)

There were no Cybis flower designs per se during the 1940s and 1950s; they were always merely decorative elements, although a couple of the 1950s birds do feature a single flower prominently.
The first named Cybis flower study was the Golden Clarion Lily in 1961, as an edition of 100. It is 11” high.

The 1964 limited-edition Dahlia is an impressive feat of petal-making and assembling! It is 12” high and was an issue of 350 that sold out in four years. The 1973 Cybis catalog stated that this piece is composed of

…more than 100 petals, each of which had to be individually fashioned from the moist clay, and then carefully set into the flower head, followed by a series of refinements.

Two retail edition colorways of the Dahlia are known: a creamy white, and a golden yellow. This lovely pink example is marked AP, indicating that it is likely one of a kind.

The one-of-a-kind Flower Bouquet of the United States was created in 1963 for display at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York; the fascinating story can be found in my Archive post. It is now in storage at the Smithsonian but is not exactly in the same condition as it was when originally created! The photo above (courtesy of the Smithsonian) shows it as it exists today; it’s interesting to compare it to the photos of its condition when it was originally sent to the Fair.

The 1963 Iris (an edition of 250) and the 1968 Calla Lily (an edition of 500) are both tall pieces at 16” high. Their round footprint fits neatly into a freeform wood base. A third piece in the same style was the 1968 Narcissus.

The Cybis studio only ever issued five flower basket designs, and they were all introduced in conjunction with the American Bicentennial in 1976. The limited edition was the Colonial Basket, designed by Lynn Klockner Brown. The flowers are the official ones of the 13 original states. It is 10” high and wide. My Cybis Archive post about these baskets also shows the four smaller, open-edition baskets that were derived from this one. The Colonial Basket edition of 100 sold for about $2000.

This rose by Lynn Brown was offered in two named colorways in 1980: as Pink Parfait Rose and Condesa Rose, Yellow. These are relatively small pieces (3.5” high x 6.5” wide) and sold for $235. They are identical except for the rose color.

The only other Cybis mixed-flower group/bouquet was the 1982 limited-edition Spring Bouquet by Lynn Brown – who had begun her Cybis association almost 20 years earlier when she was hired in 1963 to help create the flowers in the World’s Fair piece! This one is much smaller at 9.25” and was an edition of 200.

The Love Song rose, a 1984 declared edition of 100, was later cut to only 50. Although the introductory advertising does not show it on a base, at least some were produced with one. It is 8” high and 10″ long. This was the final time that Cybis introduced a limited-edition floral piece.

In fact, there were only three new flower designs – all open/non-limited editions – from Cybis at all after 1987. They were the American Rose, the Holiday Rose with Holly, both in 1987; and the Water Lily with Frog in 1989. During the 2000s the studio offered those two roses in a pink colorway with a breast cancer pink ribbon added, as the Large and Medium Ribbon of Hope Rose. My Archive site has pages showing all of the roses and other flower studies.

Decorative Accessories (1940s through 1990s)

Ironically, Cybis decorative accessories had a longer presence in the studio’s production chronology than anything except their human figures. As seen in Part One, we find Cordey-style (but Cybis-signed) vases that are definitely from the mid-1940s.

This photo of an assortment of Cybis candlesticks was in a 1944 trade magazine.
These candle holders and trinket boxes were made during the 1950s. Because the candle holders are glazed, they are probably early-mid 1950s. The 1950s boxes were made in glazed and in bisque finishes.

The first modern-era-studio giftware/decor piece didn’t appear until 1975. Made in a choice of blue or pink, it was called the Bonbonniere Baptismal Shell because it could be used for either! It is 6” x 3” and only 1.75” high, which means that as a candy dish it couldn’t hold much. It was made for only two years, but the cash-strapped 1990s studio resurrected the mold in 1990 and began selling it again, as Baptismal Font.

The mid-1970s were boom years for new Cybis décor items. The lidded heart boxes are roughly 4″x4″ and 3″ high; the Rose Jar is 5” high including the lid. The fanciful turtle is 3”x5” and 3” high. All of these sold for about $75 at the time.

Not exactly a décor piece, but definitely unusual, was the 1979 Commemorative Chess Set. This was a copy (more or less) of the 1972 Cybis set that was selected to be a gift from President Nixon to Soviet Premier Brezhnev. There is an Archive post that goes into the backstory and history of the set, which was not designed in the Cybis studio but by a freelance artist decades earlier. The 1979 set was an edition of 10 that had a retail price of $30,000 which included the pieces, a carrying case, and a chessboard. The #5 set was consigned to a North Carolina auction house in 2019, with an opening bid of $425. After 52 bids by a small group of interested bidders, the hammer came down at the $8000 mark.

The 1980s saw a sudden spate of plaques emerge from the studio. In Spring 1981 it was the Moses Plaque which is a portrait of the studio’s 1960s sculpture Moses, the Great Lawgiver. The plaque itself is 12” x 16”; it was sold framed as shown here, making it about 24” x 20” overall. Originally intended as an edition of 50, it was reduced to only 25 in 1982. Later in 1981, the similar Holy Child of Prague Plaque was issued as an edition of 25. It, too, is a portrait of a sculpture: the late-1950s Holy Child of Prague. I have seen very few of either plaque come up for sale, which may be a reflection of their original $4000+ price tag and subsequent market-value drop.

The Four Seasons series was the only time Cybis ever dipped a toe into the dimensional-plaque waters. The plaques themselves are barely 8” in diameter; sold framed as shown, they are 11.25” square. The example above is called Summer Dreams. Originally intended as an issue of 100 for each design, only 60 of each were actually made.

The studio did do several bas-relief (molded) decorative plates/plaques during the 1980s, however. The 1983 Flower Plate is 6.75” in diameter and had a companion Berry Plate the following year. These sold for $195 but were retired fairly soon because of poor sales. The studio resurrected the molds during the mid-1990s and put these back on their product list at $395, thus proving once again that their claim of “molds destroyed/never to be produced again” was less than truthful.

It’s no surprise that the installation of George Ivers as the studio’s Art Director in 1981 soon resulted in several décor items with an iris motif: He almost always included an iris somewhere in his own art as a compliment and homage to his wife, Iris. In addition to the 1983 Iris Compote (5” high, 7” diameter) and 1984 Iris Candlesticks, there was also a vase and a footed dish to match. These candlesticks are the only ones that the Cybis studio made after the 1950s.

Frankly, vases were not something that Cybis did a great job on (in my opinion), so it’s probably just as well that there weren’t many of them. All but one of the modern ones appeared during the 1980s. The Chrysanthemum Vase (upper left) from 1983 is about 9” tall; the Bluebird of Happiness Vase from 1987 is 10”. Both were offered in a choice of plain white or color, with the color versions priced at just under $400. The design of the much smaller (5.5” high) 1983 Daisy Vase is arguably more pleasing. A very unfortunate mid-1990s introduction first called Adam’s Vase and then renamed the Eden Vase is probably the absolute worst thing I have ever seen come out of the post-1960 Cybis studio. If it hadn’t been on their circa-2000s website, I’d never have believed it was theirs. If you’re morbidly curious, you can see it in my Archive’s post about the Cybis vasesbut you have been warned!

Among the several items issued in connection with the 1976 Bicentennial and the 1987 Constitutional Bicentennial was the Liberty Bell. An open edition in 1987, it was sculpted by William Pae as one of the last items he did before leaving the studio in 1986. It is 4” tall and was available in either plain white bisque or in color as shown.

Another unique décor project was the series of Twelve Days of Christmas ornaments. The series was designed during the mid-1980s but not introduced until 1989 which was the final year of what had been normal operating procedure for the studio. The plan was to issue one (or at most, two) per year so that the series would be completed by the collector in 1999 with Twelve Drummers Drumming. The price of the first one (Partridge in a Pear Tree) was $175; by 1999 they were $325 each. Their heights range from 3.25” to 5” depending on the ornament. The first six are shown above; the entire series has its own Archive post which includes some fun facts about the song’s lyrics. For example, did you know that the “eight maids a-milking” began as “hares a-running”, then “hounds a-running”, and then “boys a-singing” before they permanently turned into milkmaids?

The final post in this mini-series looks at the most successful of the Cybis studio’s genres: their human figures. It also examines what led to the studio’s decline and ultimate demise.

 Lost Porcelain Studios: Cybis, Part One

 Browse the entire Lost Porcelain Studios series

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