A sports theme probably isn’t the first that comes to mind when thinking about Cybis porcelains but in fact they did produce more than a dozen pieces in that genre. Two of them were special commissions but the others were available at retail. Some were human figures and others were animals; however, only one of the “sports player animals” was an original design rather than an adaptation of a prior piece. Let’s take a look at the human studies first.
Although the first retail Cybis sports studies did not appear until 1984, thanks to a helpful Archive reader we now know that the concept was considered more than 20 years earlier. However, the pieces shown below – a pair of male and female skiers – were never produced for retail sale.
These female and male skiers were undoubtedly designed by Laszlo Ispanky; they have all the characteristics of his work. This effectively dates them to his tenure as Art Director at Cybis.
Both are signed Cybis on the underside and retail their original assigned design numbers. As demonstrated in Signatures and Marks, the 400 series of design numbers was reserved for human figures. Dating Cybis design pieces by their design number can be tricky because their retail release did not always follow in sequence, but the next number (440) was Dawn, released in 1962 and also an Ispanky design. So the skiers were made between 1960 and 1962.
We’ll now take a look at the sports figures that Cybis introduced at retail.
The three figure skaters are profiled in detail in their own separate post but will be summarized here. The first was introduced in 1984. From left to right: A Star is Born from 1984, Encore issued in 1986, and Figure Eight from 1985. They were each priced at $625 at introduction with a declared issue of 750.
Lance, the Jogger was introduced as an open edition in Spring 1980 at $395; he is 14″ high. In that introductory brochure, he is listed as being part of a new “Leisure Collection” but in the actual Cybis price list he is simply The Jogger and the collection name is “Sports Scenes.” By the autumn he has been renamed as The Jogger (Male) and is joined by The Jogger (Female) who is 13” high and costs $345. They had a short run, though: the Spring 1981 price list shows them both as retired, at their original issue prices. They, and the idea of a dedicated sports theme category, disappeared.
The next question is, Are martial arts considered to be a sport? There is much discussion and division about this. Judo, taekwondo, and kickboxing certainly are sports, because those have Olympic divisions; but what about karate or kung-fu? Are those a discipline/art, or a sport, or both? Rather than attempt to wade into this pool, I will simply say that Cybis created three martial arts pieces, at least two of which were retail offerings.
All three were initially titled Tang Dynasty; two have a secondary title. All date from the late 1980s and were limited editions. From top to bottom: Tang Dynasty I ‘The Student’ from 1986; Tang Dynasty II ‘The Nobleman’ from 1987; and Tang Dynasty III which may not have been released and thus has no secondary title. They were no longer in the Cybis lineup as of 1990, so were around for no more than three years. The Classical Impressions post includes full details of edition sizes, prices, and chronology. The fact that the title includes ‘Tang’ suggests that these may be meant to portray a Chinese martial art – either Kung Fu or Tai Chi. Perhaps someone with far more knowledge of those styles could weigh in with some insight; there is a contact form link at the bottom of this post!
All of the “sports children” appeared between 1984 and 1990 and were priced in the $200 range initially.
The first in this series was the Baseball Player, who appeared in the studio’s Fall 1984 brochure with the title Baseball Player ‘Little Champ.’ The “Little Champ” part of the name was subsequently eliminated and the piece appears on their 1988 price list simply as Baseball Player. He is 8.5″ high
This example differs from the official Cybis photo, and from the others I have seen online, in that the trim on his collar and sleeves is red rather than blue. Was this a one-off or did the trim color vary in production?
This is the Soccer Player who appeared in 1990 at $195. The colorway shown above, with yellow shorts and a black-trimmed shirt, is the photo that appeared on the Cybis website and, like all of the other images they placed there, was scanned from a piece of their prior advertising literature (which is why the moire effect on most of their images is so pronounced.)
However, the mold impressions and signature on this alternate colorway (with light green pants and a green-trimmed shirt) sold at auction in 2013 clearly indicates that this design was copyrighted in 1982 but not released until a full decade later (1992, as shown by the date to the left of the Cybis signature.) Despite being marked as a photography-sample piece, it seems this colorway was not the one ultimately chosen for their advertising. These are the only two photos I have of the Soccer Player and would be interested to see a third piece to view the actual colors and retail markings; there is a contact form link at the bottom of this page if anyone has an image to share.
Little Gymnast appears on the 1988 Cybis sculpture list at $225 and is 10” high.
The Football Player is 8.25” high and also appeared in 1990 for $195. The copyright year for this piece was 1984 but it took six years for him to be introduced. This is one of only three African-American children that Cybis ever depicted, by the way; the other two are shown in the Diversity post.
Gone Fishing is 9.5” high. Her fishing pole and “catch” display more detail than is shown in the other sports-child designs. Like the soccer and football players, she was a 1990 introduction for $195. She is the only piece that includes a fish as a secondary design element.
The Swimmer was the last of the sports children. Two colorways are shown; it’s not known which one was the retail version because both examples pictured were in the studio’s holdings. Her name was shown as Little Swimmer when she was issued in Spring 1991 at $275. This price point is illogical because this is a much simpler and easier piece to produce than Gone Fishing, who had appeared only a few months previously but for $80 less. Of the two, Gone Fishing is arguably the better quality piece and took more time to create.
(The non-sports-themed Cybis child sculptures are shown in Cybis ‘Children to Cherish.’)
So at this point we’ve covered eight sports: figure skating, track/jogging, soccer, baseball, football, gymnastics, swimming and fishing. The remaining sports pieces add three more to this list: horse racing, skiing and golf. The two non-retail pieces belong to the golf category and will be shown last.
I may be stretching the definition of “sports sculpture” a bit, but since horse racing is indeed a sport it would be unfair to not include Nashua in this compilation. This piece is 16″ high including the base upon which it sits (unattached.) Introduced in 1971, it also has the distinction of having probably the biggest edition-size reduction in Cybis history: originally declared an issue of 500, it was closed after only 100 were made. Production problems reportedly abounded with this piece. It is also (possibly) the only Cybis piece that actually bears the name of the freelance artist who designed it: James Nelson Slick, the noted equine portrait painter. Nashua sold for $200 during its five-year production run.
The Ski Bunny, who is also included in A Bonanza of Cybis Bunnies, appeared in 1987 at $250. He is 6″ high.
The other sports bunnies are all golfers, and the “invasion” began in earnest in 1990 with the introduction of the Golf Bunnies. There were four versions, all made from the same (rabbit) mold but differing in accessory colorway, golf club position, and name. All of them had a $125 issue price, and are approximately 5.5″ tall.
The orange hat/club version is Golf Bunny ‘Gimmie’; the green version is Golf Bunny ‘Mulligan’; and the blue colorway is Golf Bunny ‘Bogie’. I have no photo yet of Golf Bunny ‘Bunkie’ who reportedly has a yellow hat and club. In Spring 1991, each golf bunny acquired a “with Holly” holiday variant as well; those were $175 each.
Traveling from the woodlands to the southern continents we have an adaptation of the 1986 Hippo ‘T.G.I.F.’, now introduced in the mid-1990s as Hippo, Baseball Fan ‘Play Ball’. (The copyright impression on the baseball version will likely still say 1986, however.) A a good guess for height is between 5.6″ and 6″ because of the cap which the original (TGIF) does not wear.
There were two golfing bears, one a retail edition and one a special event piece. The retail golfing bear appeared sometime between 1993 and 1995 as the Golfer Bear (originally Golfer Bear Cub) in three options: tan or white for $475, and also “white with Holly” for $575. They are all 6″ high. The millennial website provided no photo of any of the golfer bears but they did have one of the tan non-Golfing bear cub with holly which is the exact same height:
So if you can imagine this bear holding a golf club (probably between his front paws) you’ve got an accurate mental picture of the Golfer Bear. All of the Cybis bears can be seen in Bulls and Bears in the Cybis Market. I am assuming that the Golfer Bear was not given a cap, like the Golf Bunnies were, because that would make the cited 6″ height incorrect.
The final two sports Cybis were special event “golf” pieces. This is called Chi Chi and The Bear and was made for a charity event benefitting the Chi Chi Rodriguez Foundation, to which Joseph Chorlton, director of the Cybis studio, belonged. The “bear” in the name refers also to Jack Nicklaus who was in attendance at the event. A limited number of these were made from the Cybis open edition Woolie Bear mold, with the special hat added and the colorway changed from the standard white to a light golden brown. At first I thought this may have been a one of a kind auction piece but I have since seen a second one for sale that the buyer had autographed by Rodriguez and Nicklaus so it appears to have been an event issue – perhaps 100 or 200, as was typical for Cybis. The event price for Chi Chi is not known. (The autographed one was missing its hat and so I am showing this one instead, even though the hat does have damage.)
To round out the known Cybis sports designs there is the Ryder Cup Trophy which was commissioned for the 1987 match played at the Muirfield Golf Club. Details and additional views of this piece (only about 20 of them were made) are found in its own post. It is 15″ high (with lid) and about 8″ across the handles. At least three of these have subsequently been re-sold at auction since their original presentations in 1987.
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