The art porcelain market has at times been as volatile as Wall Street – bullish one decade and bearish the next. Although the bears and bulls were both represented in the Cybis Studio’s output, one clearly outnumbered the other throughout their seven decades of existence.
God of the Thunderbolt may have been Cybis’ first bull sculpture. An edition of only 100, designed by Laszlo Ispanky, it was introduced in 1960 (also making it one of the studio’s first limited editions) and completed in 1965. The retail price rose from $150 to $200 during that time. It is 12” high and 14” long (sculpture only); it was accompanied by a wood base approximately 2.5” high, making the overall piece 14.5” high on base. The sculpture name refers to the Greek god Zeus who, in the form of a white bull, kidnapped the Phoenician maiden Europa and brought her to Crete where he made her its Queen; the thunderbolt was the traditional weapon of Zeus/Jove.
One online seller claimed that it represented the “Wall Street Bull” despite the fact that it is not anything like the famous Arturo DiModica bronze sculpture. Another apocryphal claim, by an auction house in 2003, was that “President Lyndon Johnson bought all the [Cybis] bulls to give as gifts to ambassadors and friends.” The story does contain a germ of truth, however, because there once indeed was one of these in the State Department’s storeroom. This is because the POTUS does not actually choose any of the so-called gifts of state; they are selected by the Protocol Gifts Unit of the US Department of State, after consultation with the staffs of the Secretary of State, Vice President, and President. However, the items chosen may or may not ever end up actually being given to anyone. Rosalynn Carter’s book First Lady From the Plains mentioned that her husband’s administration inherited relatively few of these and thus “…we needed many more appropriate gifts. The ones that remained in the storeroom, like the huge, crouched Cybis bull, were those that had been passed over by other [previous administrations]…” That single Cybis bull was probably one that had either been presented to President Johnson during his term of office (1963-1969) as a gift from the studio or perhaps was requisitioned as a Gift of State but never used.
But getting back to the Cybis bullpen, there is also mentioned in the 1971 Cybis catalog list of known verified sculptures (name only, no photos or any other specifications) one called Europa and the Bull followed by an asterisk indicating that it was a limited edition. Could this has been a version of the 1960 God of the Thunderbolt with a figure of Europa on his back? If so, why was it not mentioned in either Cybis in Retrospect (also published in 1971) or the 1979 Cybis catalog appendix list of sculptures?
Assuming that “Europa and..” was a retail edition at some point, that means the Carousel Bull ‘Plutus’ was the third Cybis bull. It was issued in 1981 as an edition of 500 that was subsequently reduced to only 325; the edition was either completed or closed before 1988. It is 12” high including the wood base to which it is attached via a bolt through the gilded pole; without the base it would be 10” high including the pole or about 6” without. The sculptor was Susan Eaton and the issue price was $1125.
Taurus was a nonlimited edition, measuring 5.5” high and 8” long, that was introduced sometime between 1990 and 1993. It sold for $475.
The reclining horned bovine originally shown on the Cybis website as Bull was later re-assigned to the Nativity section correctly retitled as Cow.
Cybis produced three times as many bears as bulls, and believe it or not… not even one of them is a “teddy”!
By all indications the studio’s first bear study dates from the 1950s and was called Woodlands Bear Scene. Like many of the Cybis pieces from that era it has a glazed finish. It is 5″ high, 8″ wide, and is unusual in a couple of respects — not least because of the rather precarious position of the mother bear being offset from the main portion of the piece, seeming to invite accidental breakage. However, as seen in the fourth photo, the feet were attached with ‘slip’ and fired in place, rather than with glue. The white pigeon also seems a bit incongruous for a woodland scene; it’s the same mold used in Saint Francis with Doves seen in the Religious post. The bears themselveswere probably cast from commercially purchased molds (Holland, Atlantic, etc.)
Several of the 1950s pieces incorporated rocky “chunks” of porcelain as part of the base’s design, as shown in this photo comparing the Bear Scene’s base (at right) with Bluebird ‘By the Garden Wall’ (at left) from the same time period. They also appear on some of the ca-1950s Nativity Murals.
A mystery bear is mentioned in Cybis in Retrospect, although not pictured. From 1961–1963 Cybis made a Polar Bear in white bisque. The dimensions are given as 3” high x 4” wide which means it was smaller than any of the bears shown here… although one wonders if perhaps it was the adult bear shown in the Woodlands scene but cast as a single piece? The sizes would indeed match up.
The Bear was an open edition, made only in 1968 and 1969. It is 4” high, 8” long. Although the black and white Cybis catalog illustration shows it with an accompanying base, it also gives the size as 6” in the text and does not mention a base. There have been several instances where the ‘official’ Cybis photograph does not match the actual retail edition, and this is probably one of them. The smaller base shown in the second photo may be from a different item – possibly the Buffalo which was being produced at the same time. And although on most Cybis sculptures the mold impressions and signature are adjacent to each other, this piece is signed in the underbelly area while the mold impressions are underneath the right front paw. It has sometimes also been referred to as the Grizzly Bear, although the Cybis catalogs do say simply ‘Bear’. The retail price was $85 during its two years of production.
In 1975 Cybis introduced this brown circus-themed bear as Bear, Barnaby. He is 7” high. The following year, as part of Cybis special one-year Bicentennial issues, a white version was made under the name of Barnaby, the Bicentennial Bear. At the same time, the brown version was renamed in some advertisements as Circus Bear, Barnaby. Both versions were retired in late 1977, which means the brown version was made for three years (1975, 1976 and 1977) but the white version for only one (1976). However, all of the bears have the legend 200th (for the Bicentennial) on the trumpet!
Another bear which is often assumed to be a circus piece is Bo Bo the Musical Bear. He was issued in 1987 at $235, as part of a nonlimited series of animal musicians shown in Music and Opera. He is 4.75” high and sold for $295 during the 1990s.
Mother Bear with Three Cubs was an issue of only 100 sculptures in 1983, an artist’s proof of which was presented to Queen Elizabeth II when she visited California that year. At least two of the cubs were also issued as nonlimited edition pieces.
Here is the “frontmost” of the aforementioned cubs, produced as an nonlimited edition. He is 4.75″ high and was introduced sometime between 1990 and 1993.
However, the black colorway had already appeared in 1988, as part of a short-lived series of black sculptures called the “Midnight Collection”. At that time he was given the separate name of Black Bear ‘Brendon’ and priced at $275. During the early 1990s Cybis expanded into offering four colorways — white, tan, brown, and black — but by the end of that decade they had cut down to only two (Tan Bear and Black Bear) priced at $395 each.
The open-edition Bear Cub Sitting is the middle one, positionwise, from the Mother Bear group. Its height is 6”. Issue year was between 1990 and 1993 and it continued to be sold at $495 for the brown or tan colorway, plus a White Bisque Bear Cub Sitting for $100 less.
It was also available as Tan Bear Cub with Holly or White Bear Cub with Holly for $475.
During the first half of the 1990s they also made this bear in a golfing version, titled Golfer Bear Cub, in the same color options. I have never seen a photo but it’s likely he is holding a golf club inside his forelegs, much like the “golf bunnies” seen in the Bonanza of Bunnies post. No doubt reflecting an upcharge for the addition of the club, there was a brown or tan Bear Cub Golfer at $595 or a white version for $100 less. All three of them were retired sometime between autumn 1996 and spring 1999. The holiday (“with holly”) variants lasted a bit longer, though: the brown and tan Bear Cub Golfer with Holly lingered through the 1990s but without a white companion — who finally appeared during the 2000s on the Cybis website as the only ursine golfer, at $575.
Cybis does not seem to have produced the third (shortest and rearmost) bear cub as a separate open edition.
Now we come to Woolie Bear who was introduced sometime between autumn 1996 and autumn 1998. He does appear on a spring 1999 price list for $395 which remained his price thereafter. He is a bit over 5.5″ high and may have been called Polar Bear ‘Woolie’ when first issued but later renamed Woolie Bear.
A special edition of Woolie was created for a charity event on behalf of the Chi Chi Rodriguez Foundation, of which Joseph Chorlton was a member. The Cybis studio has confirmed that this piece was given the name of Chi Chi and the Bear (the “bear” in this case referring to Jack Nicklaus, and is why Woolie is a golden color!). It was probably produced in the typical event production run of 100 or 200 pieces; purchase price is unknown. It’s too bad that this one has some damage (chips and marks) to the hat. Because the hat was added, this piece is 6 3/8” tall.
The two different Cybis carousel series both include a bear. This is the closed limited edition Carousel Bear ‘Bernhard’ in 1981, an edition of 325 issued at $1125. Like his bullish companion Plutus, Bernhard was either completed or closed before 1988.
And what list of bears would be complete without pandas?
In 1973 when Cybis introduced their Goldilocks sculpture they chose to depict the bears of the fairytale as pandas. Rather than create a single piece showing all three bears, or having all three separate, they divided the group into two separate open editions: one titled Goldilocks and Panda ‘Bear’ for $145, and a companion piece called Panda ‘Bears’ for $45. Both were made and sold for only three years (1973–1975).
The panda pair is 3.5”high and composed of two different pieces attached with glue; the standing panda is stamped in the mold CYBIS ©1972 (another instance where mold copyright is the year before the actual retail release) on the bottom of one foot. The painted Cybis signature and copyright symbol appear on the sitting panda’s foot.
The only other Cybis panda sculpture was the Panda with Cub, a nonlimited edition measuring 4.75” high and 5” wide. This sculpture was introduced in 1989 (at $275) and thus pieces actually produced during that year have the special 50th Anniversary backstamp on it.
A bear appeared as a design element in three Cybis sculptures.
The Eskimo Mother holds a polar bear cub in the crook of her right arm.
The 1980 Holiday Child is accompanied by a stuffed panda, which was repainted for the 1981 version as a teddy bear.
Even the Cybis studio at one time connected their bull and bears sculptures with the financial industry, as shown by this exerpt from their 1982 catalog: “And for the collector/investor who thinks the stock market’s ups and downs are as endless as a carousel ride, we have Bernhard the Carousel Bear…and Plutus the Carousel Bull.” So it is not really such a fanciful idea after all. 🙂
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