Perhaps the most notable achievement of the Cybis Studio during its almost 75-year existence may be their North American Indian studies. Inaugurated as a limited series beginning in 1969, their finely detailed representations of the major Native American tribes have been widely appreciated by collectors.
Boleslaw Cybis was fascinated by the native peoples of his adopted country and his portfolio of portrait drawings are an entire collector genre in themselves. Although the porcelain series wasn’t inaugurated until more than 20 years after his death they are an homage to his talent and skill. The sculptor (designer) of the initial 1969-1974 series was Helen Granger Young, an artist based in western Canada. She was not a Cybis in-house artist but designed the series for them on commission. Before examining the sculptures themselves, there are two important things to explain about this collection.
Limited Edition Sizes
The original (first) series of North American Indians had introduction dates ranging from 1969 to 1974. When looking at all of the Cybis advertising literature and price lists starting from this point in time, it is important to be aware that the edition sizes shown for these pieces do not reflect their actual production in one respect.
The Cybis catalogs and price lists all show two edition sizes for this series: One edition size noted as being for sale within the USA, and a separate, smaller edition size cited as being for sale “Outside the Continental USA.” The truth is (and this has been confirmed with former Cybis employees) that the smaller, so-called “outside the USA”, editions never existed. The only pieces that were ever made were for the Continental-USA market, because Cybis never had any retailers in Alaska, Hawaii, or any of the US Territories. I am going to give the studio the benefit of the doubt and assume that when they first launched this series, they had high hopes of convincing at least some international retailers to carry them, but that never happened. Unfortunately, the studio not only continued to claim that there were such ‘non-USA editions’ but, during the mid 1980s, extended that false advertising to almost all of their limited edition pieces as a marketing ploy.
In any case, I have omitted any reference to the nonexistent “international edition sizes” of the limited edition North American Indians (and other) pieces, so as not to perpetuate the false impression that there was any kind of “export” edition.
The two open edition child head busts (Indian Boy ‘Little Eagle’ and Indian Girl ‘Running Deer’) which can be seen in Child Portrait Busts do not represent any specific Native American tribe. Cybis always included these under the general heading of either ‘Children to Cherish’ or ‘Children of the World’ rather than within the North American Indians.
By the way, while mindful that there are differing current opinions regarding the usage of “Native American” versus “American Indian” versus “First Peoples” as descriptives, I am using the Cybis Studio’s name for this collection.
There is considerable confusion regarding the presence, absence, and in some cases the appearance of the wood bases for the North American Indians. The short answer is that ALL of these sculptures introduced in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s were issued as mounted onto a wood base. So if you happen to see any of those offered for sale without a base they should not be considered to be in 100% original condition.
So why the confusion? It arises from several sources, two of which stem from the Cybis studio itself.
CYBIS ADVERTISING PHOTOGRAPHS: Cybis’ advertising agency unfortunately sometimes photographed a piece without the base that was part of the actual retail sculpture to be sold. For example, the official Cybis advertising photo of Kateri Tekakwitha does not include a base even though all the retail sculptures had one. The photo of the Yaqui ‘Deer Dancer’ used for the 1985 introduction brochure, the 1986 catalog, and the circa-2000s Cybis website shows no base; but every other photograph of the sculpture that I have seen – except for sculpture #65 sold by Bunte Auction Services in late 2014 – shows it on a wood base. Former Cybis retailer Dorothy Farrar, who sold many of the Indians sculptures, told me that all of the Deer Dancers received by her gallery from Cybis included the wood base. That is a fact: Cybis did create and sell these sculptures with a base, regardless of what their advertising photo showed or what an online seller may now claim to the contrary. The official Cybis advertising photo cannot always be relied upon to determine whether or not any particular sculpture’s retail edition did or did not originally include a wood base.
CYBIS OFFICIAL DIMENSIONS: To confuse things even more, an official Cybis description sometimes included the qualifier “on base” or “with base” – but not always. However, the cited height of a sculpture always included the thickness of the wood base if the piece was sold either attached to or accompanied by one.
The aforementioned Yaqui ‘Deer Dancer’ is a perfect example. The official Cybis photograph does not show a base even though the sculptures that were sold at retail all had one. The sculpture height given by Cybis in all of their print and digital media is 19.5”. If you measure just the porcelain (not the base) it is 17.5” high. The wood base is just about 2” thick. Thus, Cybis correctly advertises the Yaqui ‘Deer Dancer’ as being 19.5” high because the sculpture was attached to its wood base. Thus the #65 example sold by Bunte was missing its base. When determining whether or not a sculpture originally had a wood base, always refer to the height cited by Cybis in their literature. If your piece is shorter than that height, there are only two possibilities: either it is missing its original base, or it is a Hall of Fame replica. If there was never a HOF edition of the sculpture, then your piece is missing its original base. Only one of the North American Indians (the Eagle Dancer) was ever reissued in a HOF format.
PACKING AND SHIPPING: Cybis had three different categories of sculptures with bases.
(1) Those that were physically mounted to the wood base using a bolt and washer or toggle; this is the case with the various heads/busts and is the reason for the felt covering on the bottom of the wood base (to cover the access hole.)
(2) Those that were designed so as to fit into their specially designed wood base, or vice versa.
This shows the bottom part of a Hiawatha that was sold without its original base; the top of the base was recessed in order to accept this part of the porcelain figure.
(3) Those that were sold with an accompanying flat base upon which the sculpture could simply be placed for display (the Wood Wren with Dogwood, Pinto Colt, Darby and Joan, et al.)
When packed for shipment, the sculptures in category #1 were of course packed “as is”; the bases remained attached to the porcelain. However, when packing sculptures in categories #2 and #3, the two elements were usually separated for safety in shipment, because Cybis pieces were not wrapped in plastic or bubble pak; they were surrounded only by finely shredded styrofoam “snow”. In many instances the base might be packed in an entirely separate box, rather than having the ‘base-box’ placed within the box containing the porcelain itself. This was especially true for the large limited editions; the solid mahogany base for the American White Buffalo weighed almost 10 lbs and was packaged separately from the buffalo itself. Cybis’ retail galleries were aware of this multi-box shipment routine and made sure that each sculpture was reunited with its base, but in the secondary market anything can (and does) happen. A former Cybis retailer who has often been asked by auction houses to identify Cybis pieces recently told me “Quite often the figurines and bases are packed separately for shipment or moving and then are never reunited. I can’t tell you how many times I have viewed auctions and found bases for sculptures piled in a box to be sold separately.” Clearly it’s a matter of pure luck if a Cybis is re-sold along with its original base nowadays. The surprise may be that so many pieces do manage to retain them in their ‘travels’!
Two heights are shown in my descriptions: the overall (including base) and the porcelain-only (not including base). I have added the “porcelain-only” height to assist in the identification of sculptures whose base has been lost. “Issue price” refers only to the price when the piece was first issued and does not reflect any subsequent price increases by Cybis before the edition was completed. The names are shown as originally given by Cybis in their literature; the tribal name was always shown first.
For some editions there was a change by Cybis in the actual style of the base; this is noted in the descriptions.
Blackfeet, ‘Beaverhead’ Medicine Man 1969–1981; 11.5” on base, sculpture is 9.5”h. This was the first of the series, an edition of 350 with an issue price of $2000 and a closing price of $2575. The base shown is the original style (routed dark wood) which I believe was used for the entire edition.
Dakota, ‘Laughing Water’ Minnehaha 1969; 11” on base, sculpture is 9” high. Her issue price was $1500 which rose to $2250 by 1982. The edition of 350 was closed sometime between 1982 and 1988.
Onandaga, ‘Hiawatha’ 1969; 11.5” on base, sculpture is 10” h . Cybis literature says 10” with base which confusingly implies that the base was included in that measurement but it is not. Issue price was $1500 and was $2250 in 1982. Like Minnehaha, the edition of 350 was closed before 1988.
A recently discovered Florida newspaper article dated 1970 included an interview with Marylin and Joseph Chorlton, and said that “They are doing research for the series of porcelains from Cybis which depicts North American Indian tribes. The Seminoles will be among the tribes to follow the Dakota, Onondaga and Blackfeet in the collection. ” This is quite interesting because Cybis did not end up including a Seminole sculpture in the series; was a prototype designed by the artist but not chosen for release?
Shoshone, ‘Sacajawea’ issued in 1971’ 11” on base, sculpture is approximately 9.5” high. Issue price was $2250 and she was completed between 1982 and 1988. This was an edition of 350. Sacajawea is shown with her baby son, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, who was born during the early stages of the Lewis and Clark expedition. An artist’s proof of this sculpture was Canada’s official gift to Prince Charles and Lady Diana upon the birth of Prince William. The Cybis copyright registration for this sculpture also includes the name of the freelance designer (Helen Granger Young) which was something Cybis almost never did.
Cree, ‘Magic Boy’ is 15″ on base; sculpture is 13″ high. This piece was created in honor of the Manitoba Centennial and was offered in two colorways but not at the same time. The white was limited to only 100, sold for $2500, and was made in 1971, 1972 and 1973 only. The color version did not appear until 1986; a 1988 Cybis price list includes it as a limited edition of 200 priced at $4995. That edition was closed before 1993. [Note: the color version’s rear view example is missing the two strings that originally hung from the back of the man’s belt.)
Update, August 2020: ‘Magic Boy’ now has its own Archive post that delves into the changes and differences between the editions of this sculpture.
Iroqois, ‘At the Council Fire’, Dekanawida and Atotarho made from 1973-1981; 14” on base, sculpture approx 12”. The issue price was $4250. The original edition of 350 was reduced to only 225 total before closing. The autumn 1973 price list which introduced this piece says “This sculpture comprises two important historical figures of the Iroquois – the prophet, saint and mystic Dekanawida and the Keeper of the Council Fire and Sacred Wampum, Atotarho.” The same Cybis retail price list also cites the sculpture as being sold with its own vitrine. I have only once seen it offered for sale on the secondary market with the vitrine included. The spring 1981 Cybis price list shows this edition as having been completed and a retail price of $4775, but it also appears on their 1982 price list for $4975.
Apache ‘Chato’ 1974; 13.25” on base, sculpture is approximately 11.25”. Its issue price was $1950 and by 1988 this had risen to $3300; the edition was closed sometime between then and 1993. Chato was the last of the edition-of-350 pieces in this series. Originally this sculpture was produced with the same routed dark wood base that was used for the ‘Beaverhead’ Medicine Man shown above. However, during Chato’s production run Cybis suddenly could no longer obtain these bases from that woodworker and thus they switched to the smooth wood base seen in the second photograph. Both of these bases are legitimate and original. An interesting side note is that when US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger traveled to the Middle East to broker peace negotiations he brought with him two copies of Chato; they were presented to the Arab and Israeli negotiating teams as a reminder of “the importance of communication.”
However, mention should be also made here of the Eskimo Mother because for some reason Cybis moved her into the North American Indians category in their Summer 1981 and Summer 1982 price lists; they had never placed her there before, but instead kept moving her back and forth between their “Portraits in Porcelain” and other custom/shortlived collections. Photos of this piece can be seen in Five Cybis for Mothers Day.
Crow Dancer ‘Great Thunder’ 1977–1981; 19” on base, sculpture is 17.5” h; an edition of 200 with an issue price of $3875. It was completed in 1981 at $4150.
Sioux, ‘Wankan Tanka’ The Great Spirit 1979, 18.25” on base, sculpture is 16.25” h. An edition of 200, issue price $3500; it was near closing in 1982 priced at $4150. In 1981 the Republican National Committee presented Ronald Reagan with this sculpture which Cybis director Joseph Chorlton in a newspaper interview jokingly referred to as “Hail to The Chief.”
Mohawk, Kateri Tekakwitha. Issued in 1981, she was a limited edition of 100 in white only, priced at $2875. The edition was completed sometime between 1983 and 1988. Unlike the Cree ‘Magic Boy’, there was no color version of this piece. She is 13.5” high (porcelain) on a 6.25” high wood base which Cybis did not include in their official photograph above. The photograph below shows an actual retail sculpture upon its base.
Her name is prorounced Kat-ee-ree Tek-a-kwee-ta and she was also known as the ‘Lily of the Mohawks’. Born in 1656, she died in April 1680 and was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint in 2012. Some Cybis/retailer advertising gives the name of this piece as Kateri Tekakwitha ‘Lily of the Mohawks’.
Choctaw, Tascalusa lacrosse player, 1982; 16” on base, sculpture is 14.5” h. An issue of 200, it sold for $3500 in 1988 and was closed in 1994 or early 1995.
Pueblo, Eagle Dancer 1984; 20.75” on base, sculpture is 18.5” h, issue 200. Retail price in 1988 was $3995. Cybis continued to offer it thereafter, until the studio ceased production, but it’s debatable how many were actually made and sold. I doubt that anything even close to the full complement of 200 was created. This piece was sculpted by William Pae.
There may or may not have been a Hall of Fame replica of the Eagle Dancer, because a late 1995 price list includes an Eagle Dancer III with the notation “call for release date, price and availability” in the price column. This was repeated in their May 1999 list, and on their circa 2000s website it was listed with a price of $0. I would bet a box of chocolates that they never made the piece, and that the III in the name was merely a typo for II. If they did make a HOF replica it was probably 15″ or 16″ high (and no base) but frankly I very much doubt that it ever existed.
Yaqui, Deer Dancer was introduced in 1985 as a limited edition of 200; retail pricing was $2500 in 1988. It is 19.5” on its base; the porcelain sculpture itself is 17.5”. Cybis continued to offer it thereafter but clearly the full edition was not completed. The photo above shows the sculpture as it was sold to retailers by Cybis; it uses the same base as the Eagle Dancer introduced the year before.
The three sculptures below do not depict any specific tribe and thus technically the Deer Dancer can be considered the ‘endpoint’ of the North American Indian series in that respect – the final three sculptures are all generic in nature and do not represent any specific tribe.
Young Brave is 13.5” high and does not have a wood base. A limited issue of 750 in 1987 at $725, and $895 in 1993 by which time it was listed as Indian Boy, Young Brave. This another design whose full edition never came remotely close to being completed; I have never seen one for sale with a number higher than the 20s. The bird is only glued onto the boy’s hand and so it is unfortunately easy for it to break off.
Fire Dancer was a declared issue of 200, standing 14″ high. Although it was introduced between the autumn of 1997 and the spring of 1999, a photograph taken inside the studio in November 1985 clearly shows a white bisque example on a shelf in the background. This confirms that some (probably most) of the pieces that appeared at retail during the 1990s had actually been created as much as a decade previously. The Fire Dancer appears on Cybis’ spring 1999 price list at $4995; yet another never-completed issue! No specific tribe is depicted. The only extant photo is this Cybis one which does not show a base but as we know, we cannot rely on these 100% for accuracy. Close examination of the photograph reveals that the sculpture is set atop something covered by a black cloth. However, my gut feeling is that is does not have a base, because of the cited height of 14”; for it to have the typical 2” wood base the sculpture would have to be only 12” high.
The Indian Warrior (which may have been originally named Proud Warrior) sculpture is 17” high as was flagged as “new” on their May 1999 price list for $4995 as an edition of 200. I doubt that more than a very few of these were ever made or sold.
I cannot omit mention of a sculpture that would have been among the very best of the examples shown above, had it been greenlighted for retail production by the studio. I have dubbed it the Wolf Hunter which is shown in the William Pae Artist Profile post.
Those who are interested in Native American portraits may find the Folio One post interesting as well.
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The Cybis Archive is a continually-updated website that provides the most comprehensive range of information about Cybis within a single source. It is not and never has been part of the Cybis Porcelain studio, which is no longer in business.