Cybis Artist Profile: William Pae

A veteran artist of the Cybis studio’s ‘golden age’, William Pae has always been a man of many talents: sculpture, painting, drawing, woodworking and even in the baseball field (but more about that later.)  If you have even a nodding acquaintance with Cybis porcelain you’ve seen his work even though – as was studio policy – its designer was not publicly acknowledged.

Bill grew up as one of eight children in Mercerville, New Jersey. In a 2013 interview with the US1 Newspaper, he explained that “Painting in the basement is my earliest recollection of doing art. My older brother Sonny started to draw Disney characters on the basement walls after they were whitewashed. I would imitate him and got hooked.”  Cartoon art soon became a favorite subject, and by high school his skills were such that he earned money by selling his drawings to friends and classmates.

While attending Hamilton High School East he took art classes and cites his teacher, Robert Wood, for encouraging his artistic aspirations. Upon Bill’s graduation in June 1966, Wood arranged an interview for the young man with Frank Redden who was the office manager at the Cybis studio. Pae was initially hired to start in their shipping department, where he worked for the next several months before getting married in October of that year…..and then receiving a draft notice from the US Army only two weeks later! But the Chorltons assured him that his job would be waiting for him when he returned.

After going through basic training at Fort Dix, Pae was assigned to a hospital unit in South Carolina; honorably discharged in 1967, he returned to Cybis where he was reassigned as an apprentice moldmaker, learning the craft from Cybis’ master moldmaker Jules Olewa. In his spare time he took art classes at the Trenton School of Fine and Industrial Arts as well as at Trenton Junior College; he also became a father. His talent and creative drive resulted in steady advancement and in just a few years Bill had “graduated” to the position of designer and sculptor. One of his first figures was Hansel which was released in 1974 along with its companion piece Gretel designed by studio owner Marylin Chorlton. Marylin recognized Bill’s talent as a sculptor and provided him with encouragement, insight and mentoring from his earliest days at the studio.

Porcelain Sculptures

A complete list of the sculptures designed by Bill Pae during his years at Cybis appears at the end of this section, but several of them deserve special attention and discussion.

Most collectors are unaware that with only two exceptions, every Cybis clown sculpture was designed by Bill Pae. The studio’s first such piece, Funny Face from 1976, was designed by Marylin Chorlton except for one important element: his hat. The hat as originally sculpted by Marylin was entirely different, and Bill fashioned an alternate design that brought even more attention to the child’s face. Marylin was delighted, and Bill’s hat became the standard. Shown here is the original retail edition (top right) along with several adaptations that were done in subsequent years. The original Funny Face was never retired from the Cybis retail line.

Marylin also designed a female companion bust, Valentine, but it was not released until after her death. Bill Pae also contributed to this sculpture by designing her hair.

Bill’s other clown studies are all full figures rather than busts. Three are shown in the Circus post; the fourth, Pagliacci who is technically a pierrot, was assigned by Cybis to their collection of opera-based sculptures and so he is among the Cybis Concert studies.

LITTLE MISS AMERICA by Cybis aka Little Miss LibertyIn the mid 1980s when the studio was working on a commission for a fundraiser in connection with the restoration of the Statue of Liberty, Bill Pae created – on his own – a “little girl” version. It so charmed the studio’s powers-that-be that they decided to issue her as a retail piece named Little Miss America, to be sold only during 1986 which was the same year in which the limited edition commissioned sculpture of Liberty was introduced.  The full history of this little lady, including the later yellow-ribbon version, is told in the Born in the USA post which also includes two other Pae designs: the George Washington Bust and the Liberty Bell.

PERSEPHONE by CybisBill Pae’s beautiful limited edition Persephone, introduced in 1982, gave birth to two later Hall of Fame replicas during the 1990s (see the Mythology post for multiple photos.) Persephone is unique among the Cybis ‘Portraits in Porcelain’ series because her overall scale is larger than any that they had issued before. Compared to the typical Portrait sculpture, either standing or seated, she is about 1/3 larger; in other words if she were to stand up she would be 17″-18″ tall instead of the typical 13″ standing height. She made her retail debut at a lavish June 1982 party at Brielle Galleries.

Pueblo Eagle Dancer by Cybis view 2In my opinion the two most artistically impressive of the Cybis North American Indians series are the Crow Dancer and the Eagle Dancer, the latter (shown above) created by Bill Pae and released in 1984 as an edition of 200.  Other views of this piece are in the North American Indians post.

And last but not least, there are two Bill Pae designs from the mid 1980s that were never released by the studio. Both would have been limited editions. This was a sad consequence of the studio’s decision to concentrate on pieces that were easier and less expensive to produce. In design these two sculptures are easily the equal of any of the studio’s most successful pieces.  Because they did not enter the production stage the photos below are of the original clay models that were not yet completed.

HELEN OF TROY by William Pae clay model for CybisHelen of Troy would have been the second in the “Persephone scale” series of mythological women and I will forever nurse a secret grudge against the studio for choosing not to produce her. Wouldn’t she look magnificent displayed next to Persephone? Even in this early stage the fine detail in her hair and diadem is apparent, as is her enigmatic expression as she gazes out upon the approaching Spartan fleet.

This view of Bill’s desk during the 1980s appropriately shows Helen not far from her mythological parents Leda and The Swan and also, at the far right edge of the photo, an unpainted bisque Persephone.

Now we come to what would have been, in my opinion, one of the very best of the Indians series. Because it was never released it was never named, so I’ve decided to call it the Wolf Hunter. The upper photo shows a portion of the clay model; the lower one shows the entire model painted white. This sculpture has a wonderful sense of movement – of “motion captured” – that is absent in the initial 1970s series pieces by Helen Granger Young and in some of the later Indians as well. It would also have been the only sculpture in the series to include a ‘living’ animal in the composition.

This completed but only partial section of the Wolf Hunter was sold in 2019 by the auction house that handled the Cybis studio’s liquidation.

Cybis sculptures designed by William Pae, by retail introduction year:
Non-limited Editions:
Hansel (1974)
Little Red Riding Hood (1976)
George Washington Bust (1976)
Funny Face, hat only (1976)
Rumples the Pensive Clown (1979)
Emily Ann (1982)
Pagliacci (1985)
Valentine, hair only (1985)
Little Angel (1986)
Little Miss America (1986) a/k/a Little Miss Liberty
Hippo, Baseball Fan/Play Ball (1986) (concept and accessories only)
Liberty Bell (1987)
Limited Editions:
Frollo, the Juggler (1981)
Persephone (1982, followed by two Hall of Fame editions ca. 1990s)
Pueblo ‘Eagle Dancer’ (1984, followed by two Hall of Fame editions ca. 1990s)
Jumbles and Friend (1985)
Created but not produced for retail:
Helen of Troy
Wolf Hunter
Young Girl Bust

After serving several years as the Cybis studio’s art director, Bill Pae left the Cybis studio in 1986. His wife, fellow artist Patricia Haluska Pae, did the same shortly afterward. Unfortunately during the 1980s the internal culture, as well as the management, of the studio had gradually changed but there were practical considerations too: Essential employee benefits such as health insurance had been eliminated as a cost-cutting measure. Joining the US Postal service as a mail carrier was a sensible career move, but even though Bill was no longer at the Cybis studio he continued to produce drawings and cartoons as well as having spare time to work in other mediums.

Decorative Wall Boxes

One such alternative medium was a collection of hand-carved, hand-painted boxes designed to be hung on a wall. These average about 12″ square except for the fish example which is 36″ wide from head to tail. The hinged carved lid opens to reveal the box behind it.

The Clinton Character Pins

Bill and Hilllary Clinton character pins made by artist William PaePolitical junkies like myself may recall that in the early 1990s President and Mrs. Clinton were going through some rocky times. On a whim Bill Pae decided to create this pair of small (about 2″ high) caricature-style pins from resin and acrylic, and sent them to the White House in hopes that they might at least bring a smile to the First Family.

They brought more than that. Two years later he received a letter from the National Archives advising that his pins had been chosen for an upcoming exhibit of Presidential gifts and inviting the Paes to the event’s reception and display. This March 1996 photo shows them with their daughter Tiann.  After the close of the exhibit the pins were returned to their permanent home in the Clinton Presidential Library in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Boomer the Mascot

Bill Pae’s baseball connection began when his son Todd joined the office of the Philadelphia Phillies in 1993 and later was hired by the AA-division Trenton Thunder as their business operations manager. The team had recently moved to Trenton and acquired a new name and logo, so they also were in need of a new mascot. Todd turned to his artist dad for help.

Because the team’s logo was a bird with a lightning bolt, the mascot design had to follow suit but in a happier, cartoon-based format that would also lend itself to reproduction as a wearable costume. In other words, how would a thunderbird look if it was more like a clown?

And that is how Boomer was born. Or, rather, “hatched”! Bill also provided the name, based on veteran NFL quarterback ‘Boomer’ Esiason but also on the connection to the sound of actual thunder. (I remember calling them “thunderboomers” as a child myself.)  Boomer won the day over several other designs and still remains the Thunder’s original and senior mascot, taking part in all games and in numerous charity events.

Paintings and Drawings

Although now retired from the Postal Service, Bill Pae has not retired from art and continues to work in the sun-drenched home studio that he and his wife Patricia created after moving to northeastern Pennsylvania about 25 years ago. The walls of his studio and home are hung with paintings that evoke the Impressionist masters, several of which are shown below. The largest canvases, such as the Harbor Scene below, are approximately 3’x5′ and 4’x4′.

All of the paintings shown in this section, with the exception of the three immediately above, are currently available for purchase as of this writing (July 2017.)

This is a detail section of a large oil painting based on the work of Howard Pyle (1853-1911.)

Mr. Pae often paints local landscapes near his Pennsylvania home, as in this section of an autumn riverside scene.

This too is a detail from a much larger canvas depicting a woman seated on a bench amidst a lush Victorian flower garden, pausing in her reading to take in the beauty surrounding her.

Another detail segment, the complete painting was inspired by the artist’s mother and his childhood home.

This recent painting, completed in summer 2017, juxtaposes the ‘fire’ of the sunflowers with the icy coolness of their glass container.

Bill is also available for private commissions, a particular specialty being his Personal Touch Portraits. These are black and white pencil drawings that can be done from a photograph, such as this pencil portrait of his daughter titled My Best Girl. All such photo-based portraits  are done entirely by his own hand, with no computerized steps in the process. Some artists advertise “original” pencil drawings based on a photograph but then utilize scan-and-convert software as a first step and then add various details afterward. Bill Pae takes no such shortcuts with his work; the finished product is completely the work of the artist’s hand via the artist’s eye and soul.

Bill Pae is among the few remaining artists from what I call the Golden Age of Cybis: the 1960s, 1970s and early 1980s. Many of those artists, such as Ginny McCotter who joined the studio while Boleslaw Cybis was still alive, have passed away and others have proved impossible to locate. The stories of the Cybis artists and artisans call to mind the theme song from Camelot…”don’t let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment…”  But thanks to the creative talents of Bill Pae, we can still enjoy many of those shining Cybis porcelain moments today!

[ If you would like to contact Mr. Pae about purchasing existing paintings or with requests for new work, his studio phone is (215) 295-0562 ]

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Name Index of Cybis Sculptures
Visual Index (for human figures/busts only)

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