By far the most elusive items for this Cybis researcher were not made of porcelain, papka, or paint-and-canvas, but rather of celluloid: Three short 16mm films that were created during the 1970s and early 1980s. This is the story of the films and of my (thus far fruitless) search for them.
Of Queens and Kings and Other Things (1972; length 8 minutes)
The first Cybis film was also the shortest, with a runtime of only eight minutes, and focused exclusively on the Chess Set that the studio produced as a gift of state from the USA to Russia during the historic Moscow Summit in May 1972. In September of that year, as part of an article in the Lebanon [Pennsylvania] Daily News, it was mentioned that
Because of American interest in the Presidential Set, a Princeton firm recorded the porcelain figures on color film for exhibit on TV and home screens in the United States.
“A Princeton firm” is the closest I’ve ever come to an identification of the company that actually shot, edited and produced the film. The Hagerstown Morning Herald said this in a January 19, 1973 article about the circulating exhibit of an artists’ proof of the Chess Set:
The Cybis chess set is also the subject of a color film — “Of Queens and Kings and Other Things” — scheduled for a series of television showings in the Washington area during January. Winner of the CINE ’72 Gold Eagle Award, “Of Queens and Kings and Other Things” has been selected to represent the United States in non-theatrical motion picture events abroad.
Now, one would think that, having won a CINE Award, it would be easy to find out who created the film and perhaps even obtain a copy of it. Unfortunately, despite repeated attempts I’ve been unable to do either.
The film continued to accompany the circulating exhibit of the Chess Set for the next few years. In late April 1976 a retailer called The Pillars in Monroe, Louisiana, placed an ad in the News-Star for a Cybis event featuring the film:
Special showing of the award-winning film “Of Queens and Kings and Cybis Things.” The star of the film is the official gift of the U.S.A. to the U.S.S.R. It runs for eight minutes of magic, fantasy and music, and CINE 72 honored it with their coveted Golden Eagle Award, which The Council on International Nontheatrical Events “selected for excellence” to represent the United States of America in international motion picture events abroad. Its mood will place you in the Cloisters of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Notice the discrepancy in the film title in the ad: “Cybis Things” rather than “Other Things.” I believe this error can be traced to the title of an article that appeared in Trenton Magazine some months previously; there they used “Cybis Things” instead of the film’s actual title.
Porcelain Enchantments (1973; length approximately 17 minutes)
The circumstances surrounding the creation of the second film are very interesting. In his 2008 book A Quest for Excellence Ira Jacobson, owner of mega-Cybis-retailer Brielle Galleries, relates how he would take customers on short tours of the store and explain the craftsmanship of art porcelain. However,
After offering the tour for several months, I realized that my explanations could only communicate so much. People needed to see the processes that created these works of art. I decided to put film facilities into one of the galleries….after the tours, I showed two 17-minute professionally produced films about how the Cybis and Boehm sculptures were made. There was no audio, so I narrated it, explaining the techniques used for making porcelain.
The mention of not one but two 17-minute films immediately caught my eye. So I did a bit of sleuthing that culminated in my getting in touch with Ira Jacobson directly; he is in his nineties and still going strong, doing book signings! 🙂 I was able to speak with him by phone and ask about the films.
It turns out that it was Ira’s idea to have a film made at each of the studios; logical, because his gallery sold both Cybis and Boehm. Unfortunately he does not recall the name of the film crew/company. I was puzzled, though, by his assertion that there was no sound on the film, only video. The title of the film, Porcelain Enchantments, matched the Cybis logo/tagline for their advertising during those years. [I haven’t been able to find any other mention of the Boehm short film or what it was called.]
Of course the big question was whether Ira still has a copy of the second Cybis film. Alas! It was only provided to him on loan and so when he eventually dropped that part of the tour, he had to return both films to their respective studios.
However, there must have been more than one copy, as evidenced by this part of an ad from Armstrong’s (Cybis’ biggest West Coast retailer) in the Los Angeles Times on November 16, 1973:
The Cybis Studio has just finished producing a remarkable film entitled “Porcelain Enchantments”‘. We at Armstrong’s are quite proud to have been selected to present the premiere showing of this great new film. We will also be showing another film that was produced last year entitled “Of Kings and Queens and Cybis Things”.
Notice the film-title error here as well. The fact that Armstrong’s was the first dealer to show it publicly means that it was probably filmed in the late summer of 1973. I have inquired of two artists who worked at Cybis all through the 1970s and neither one of them remembers ever seeing a film crew at the studio; it’s probable that it was filmed on a weekend with only one or two artisans in attendance, in order not to disrupt a normal workday.
The Fall 1974 issue of The Phoenix, Cybis’ illustrated retail booklet at the time, says this about the film:
The Carousel sequence in our new Cybis film, “Porcelain Enchantments”, is such a rapturous rhythm of rainbow colors and sound. In an artistic fashion, the film traces the sculpting and firing cycles of porcelain…a promised treat for all porcelain aficionados.
“Porcelain Enchantments” was filmed here at the Cybis Studio with the same aesthetic direction that produced “Of Queens and Kings and Other Things”, the CINE Golden Eagle award wining film about the Cybis Presidential Chess Set. Copies of both films are available for limited engagements to interested groups.
Wait, what?!? Colors and sound?? But according to Ira Jacobson’s book, “there was no audio.” The only thing I can surmise is that perhaps Ira’s projector was not equipped to handle the secondary separate (audio) track on the filmstrip. From the information in The Phoenix it appears as if this second film was probably made by whatever company had produced the 1972 one.
The Library of Congress has a searchable database online but it does not include either film. The website does say that the Library “does not keep a copy of every item published”, but it was worth a try!
Porcelains That Fire the Imagination (1981; length 12 minutes)
The third and final Cybis short film was registered in 1981 with the U.S. Copyright Office. Like the second film, its title corresponded to the studio’s current advertising tagline (“Porcelains The Fire the Imagination”) which was also registered with the Trademark Office.
The copyright entry indicates the length (12 minutes), that it contained sound and color, and was shot on 16mm film.
This film, too, made the rounds of retailer Cybis events; this 1983 ad does not give the film’s title but the odds are that the newest (1981) was the one they used. So it was in circulation for at least two years, if not longer.
It is possible that this film is the one that purportedly contains a sequence showing the Dahlia ‘blooming’ within the kiln during firing. At least one collector with whom I correspond recalls seeing a portion of a show broadcast on a Tulsa, Oklahoma PBS station that showed Cybis production sequences, with a best-guess timeframe of 1981 or 1982. To the best of his recollection the segment was 30 minutes long, which would correspond to a combination of the 1973 and 1981 films (adding the 1972 Chess Set film would push the total time to 37 minutes even though PBS shows are commercial-free once begun.)
It is possible (again, anecdotally) that the PBS segment contained an interview of sorts with actress Zsa Zsa Gabor who had a number of pieces of Cybis in her personal collection. Whether this was part of either of the actual Cybis films, or something added by PBS, is unknown.
The Great Film Hunt
Of course the Holy Grail would be to obtain a copy of any (or all) of these films and post them here on the Cybis Archive for everyone to enjoy. We already know that Ira Jacobson no longer has a copy of the 1972 film, and inquiries to various PBS stations that may have aired the 1981 film have turned up nothing. CINE does not share films or videos from their archives. Theresa Chorlton, the only surviving owner of the Cybis studio, did not join the studio until the mid-1980s and when asked about the films said that she had no knowledge of them or where any copies might be. I assume that any copies loaned to retailers for the semiannual sculpture introductions or other Cybis events were immediately returned to the studio afterwards. It’s not known whether the Princeton company that made the first two films made the 1981 film as well.
If any reader has seen any of these films, either at a Cybis event or on television, I would love to be able to add your recollections. There is a direct contact form on the About the Archive page, or you may post a public comment here on this post. It is fascinating to know that Cybis porcelains had their own special foray onto the “silver screen!”
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