I recently added a post to my personal blog site, describing the process by which art porcelain sculptures are created. The transformation from the artist’s initial clay model to the finished retail product was something that collectors rarely had a chance to see and appreciate. Shown below are “before and after” photos of a baker’s dozen Cybis designs, contrasting their initial (or early) stage with the sculpture that ultimately appeared on the retailer’s shelf.
Original Clay Model vs. Finished Product
This is Steve Zuczek’s original 1985 clay model of A Tisket, A Tasket (two bunnies as a basket!) to which the finished 1987 piece was very faithful.
The circa-1985 clay model of the Eagle Bowl that was introduced in 1987 along with a number of other patriotic-themed Cybis sculptures. It is likely that the fine detail of the feathers was done by George Ivers, who greatly favored that type of work.
William Pae’s model of Jumbles and Friend, a limited edition of 750 which was issued in 1985. Notice that the final version of the hat is different, the model’s necktie was eliminated, and the model’s wooden crate has yet to be sculpted.
Another Bill Pae piece was Pagliacci. The 1984 clay model in progress is supported in the back by an armature. There are several differences between the model and the 1985 finished version, most notably in the position of the legs and feet, the pants design, and the reduction of the front rosettes from four to only three.
The original clay model of Little Miss Liberty, also by Pae, was designed by him at home in 1985 and later purchased by Cybis for production. Later renamed Little Miss America, she was originally available only during 1986.
This July 1985 photo of Icarus shows the model of the body only; the large elaborate wings were fashioned separately. Unfortunately I do not have a photo of those at the model stage. In the production version his hair is different and his left leg is held at a much higher angle than in the clay model. Icarus was part of Cybis’ new Classical Impressions series in 1986.
These photos dramatically illustrate the metamorphosis of the clay model of the Knight in Shining Armor to the final stunning (and very limited edition!) retail piece.
Unpainted White Bisque vs Finished Product
As explained in my blog post about the creation process, the first (“bisque”) firing of the fully assembled piece is what prepares it for the painting stage. During the 1950s, when the studio was mostly using commercially purchased readymade molds, many of their pieces were offered in two color options: plain white unpainted bisque, and “decorated” (painted), especially for their religious pieces. After Marylin Chorlton took over the studio in 1958, having a retail white bisque version became far less common but the practice never disappeared entirely from the Cybis line.
Here we have photos of the Bluebird of Happiness Vase in three major production stages: original clay model (top photo), kiln-fired white bisque, and the final retail product. The clay model and bisque photos were taken in late 1985, and the vase itself was introduced at retail in 1987. This is one of the items that was offered to buyers in a choice of plain white bisque ($140) or color ($225.) The white bisque retail version probably had clear-glaze highlights on parts of the leaves; I have not been able to find a photo of one of those yet, but it seems very likely. The last version of the Cybis website (ca. early 2009) still listed the two color options but with a larger color cost disparity: $195 for white, versus $495 for color. [These were always sold singly, not as a pair.]
Bill Pae’s Little Angel at the bisque and painted stages; introduced in 1986, she was only offered in the color you see here. However, during the late 1990s the studio decided to add her to the Nativity series as an additional angel, even though she was never intended to be part of that collection. Because all the Nativity pieces were offered in two color options – standard painting and “white with gold decoration” – Cybis then added a white/gold option to the Little Angel also. I have never seen one actually produced that way, however.
Cal the Musical Cat was another Steve Zuczek design, part of his whimsical ‘animal band’ from the late 1980s. These were only produced in color and so this is an unpainted bisque example.
The 1987 Cupid With Heart was another Ivers-assisted piece. Lynn Klockner Brown sculpted the cupid and overall design, and then George Ivers added the detail work on the heart. This was only offered in a color version.
Here’s a good illustration of what a dramatic difference the painting can make (for good or ill.) The top photo shows the Adam’s Vase in white bisque as it came from the kiln. The second photo shows one in a partially painted state. The third is an “official” Cybis photo of the retail version, which stands in stark contrast to the piece in the second photo. I personally think that the lighter colors of the partially painted piece are far more attractive. It is true that colors can and do change during the paint firings but I cannot imagine that the colors used on the second piece would have transformed into what is shown in the third photo! Unlike the Bluebird Vase, I have not found any indication that this one was produced in a plain white retail version.
The final example is rather unique in that compares the piece in the post-mold but pre-fired stage to the final product. This is the Yaqui ‘Deer Dancer’ in the plaster stage; the small holes are attachment points for the multiple pieces that comprise the sculpture. His necklace, feathers, and belt do not appear on the plaster piece because those were created by hand and attached at the later “greenware” stage.
If you are interested in learning more about the many steps involved in going from the initial design mold to the final signed sculpture, see my illustrated post about the creation of art porcelain (July 2017 on my Chatsworth Lady blog.)
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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.