A Snail Tale

As a gardener you’d think I’d loathe snails and as a person violently allergic to garlic you’d assume I also avoid them like the plague, gastronomically speaking – both are true, but with one notable exception: I once spent four years actively trying to acquire a specific snail (no, I’m not a malacologist either). It was a particularly winsome Cybis snail named Sir Henri Escargot.

This 3” high monsieur was a Cybis open edition produced from 1968 to 1972 at a price of $50 throughout. Because he was retired shortly before my initial discovery of Cybis, availability was strictly limited to whatever remained in retail stocks. He’s certainly one of the studio’s simpler pieces but there was just something… well… appealing about him. Must be that legendary Gallic charm coming through those tentacles, or perhaps via that almost-like-a-pencil-mustache “smile.” A veritable Maurice Chevalier or Louis Jourdan of the gastropod set.

It so happened that Brielle Galleries, where I first encountered Henri, still had several in stock. It was immediately obvious that there was considerable variation in the painting of the shell, both in colors and technique. This presented a problem because none of the three felt like quite the ‘right’ choice. I thought one looked too stripey, another “too yellowish” and I wasn’t thrilled with the glazing on the third. But I could easily find the perfect snail elsewhere, bien sûr?

Wrong. You wouldn’t believe how many not-quite-right snails I looked at during the next few years at retailers ranging from Baily Banks & Biddle in Philadelphia, to Shreve Crump & Low in Boston, to Wakefield Scearce Galleries in Louisville, to Neiman Marcus in NYC, to Douglas Lorie in Palm Beach, to small shops such as Herbert John Gifts and Lamps in Pelham, NY. However, the perfect snail remained just out of reach; perhaps he was hiding under a rock?

To give an idea of the potential variation in shell decoration, here are a few examples gleaned from the Web and why I wouldn’t have chosen these. Yes…. I am nitpicky.

snail-1Not enough variety in the colors; basically it’s just shades of rose pink and yellow. Not a fan of the yellowish highlights on his “body” either.

snail-2This one’s too much the other way – very stripey, more like a clown outfit than a snail! Definitely not a fan of the purplish highlights in the shell’s curves; I passed up quite a few because of that technique.

snail-3This time the highlighting is blue(ish), the upper tentacles are a very odd dark grey, and most of the body is yellow. Pass.

snail-4Not terrible (better than the other three) but still….those colors are just a bit too bright for me. (In the real world, a shell like that would probably be a huge neon “Joe’s Diner” sign for any passing bird, too.) And boy, is that rock yellow!

snail-5Another yellow-bodied snail and for some reason the shell colors suggest a pair of faded jeans and a 1960s shirt to me; I have no idea why. But hmmm, doesn’t his attitude and expression look rather as if he’s been munching on a Cannabis sativa leaf…??

So did I ever ultimately find The Perfect Cybis Snail? Yes, after several years of searching and at a considerably higher price than he was at retirement; and here he is, in his elegantly understated hues:

SIR HENRI ESCARGOT by CybisAnd best of all….. I never have to worry about him munching on my plants!

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