One might think that the only appearance of Cybis in the media was in advertising materials and occasional newspaper snippets, but that would fall short of the mark. Cybis porcelains have made cameo appearances within several works of fiction and nonfiction, plus at least one popular television series.
Ideals Publishing Co. Gift Books
The earliest instance I found of Cybis appearing in an non-advertorial publication is a 1970 Mother’s Day gift book produced by the Ideals Publishing Company. Based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and still in existence today, they publish a magazine, gift booklets, and greeting cards. Their focus is on “down-home America” literature, philosophy, and inspirational poetry. The gift booklets were intended as a more substantial alternative to the typical greeting card; each poem or short story was illustrated with a photograph related to its subject or idea.
The cover of their 1970 gift booklet For Mother is a color photo of Wendy placed on a green AstroTurf-covered table in front of an image of a lady walking through a flowery meadow.
This is probably the facing page, next to the booklet’s accompanying envelope.
In the lower left corner is the image credit: Cybis Porcelain Sculptures on covers courtesy of Cybis Porcelains, Trenton, New Jersey. Unfortunately, there were only these two images available; if any vintage ephemera collector happens to have this item, I’d love to know what other Cybis pieces – if any – appear in it. There’s a contact form link at the bottom of this post.
I also found a 1977 Happy Valentine’s Day booklet as well.
On the facing page of a poem entitled Beautiful Things, by Ellen Palmer Allerton, is a photo of the Carousel Horse which had been introduced in 1973. This photo is also cited as being courtesy of Cybis, and is the same stock photo that the studio used in their catalog and retail advertising – unlike the 1970 booklet’s Wendy image which was created by Ideals Publishing from a sculpture either lent or given to them.
If anyone happens to have any other Ideals Publishing items that show a Cybis piece, do let me know so that I may include them here. I would guess that they are most likely to be from the 1970s and possibly the early 1980s.
The remaining examples are all from hardcover or softcover books, and shown in chronological order based on first publication.
1974 autobiography Return to Earth
A firsthand account of a notable Cybis sculpture event is related in Col. Edward “Buzz” Aldrin’s autobiographical Return to Earth, published in 1974 by Bantam Books. The passage below describes the visit by the three Apollo 11 crew members to the White House on November 5, 1969, four months after their historic moon landing.
The sculpture given to the astronauts was slightly different than the retail version that the studio released as an edition of 200 seven years later, in 1976.
This is one of the special 1969 Columbia sculptures described in the book. The 1976 retail version does not have the NASA medallion in front of the shield, and their brass front plates commemorate different events.
Although the 1978/79 Cybis catalog seems to suggest that the astronauts also received a Tranquility Base ‘Apollo 11 Moon Mission’ sculpture, there is no mention of that in the book.
1983 novel The Glory Hand
The Glory Hand, by Paul and Sharon Boorstin, was published in 1983 by Berkley Books. Mr. Boorstin is a documentary filmmaker and screenwriter whose work has appeared on the Discovery, A&E and History channels as well as on major television networks. The book’s subtitle is A Novel of Possession and Horror.
In this example the mention of Cybis is only indirect. However, the studio did indeed advertise regularly in The New Yorker, and in fact that seems to have been their earliest large-scale ad campaign; I have found a Cybis ad there as early as 1962. However, a hypothetical ad for the Unicorn would not have appeared before 1969.
1984 poetry anthology Star Quilt
Star Quilt, a collection of poems by Roberta Hill Whiteman, was first published in 1984 by Holy Cow Press. Ms. Whiteman writes from the perspective of a member of her Native American tribe, the Oneida of Wisconsin.
Because the poem Song for Facing Winter was written in 1976, the small bear referred to must be the Grizzly Bear; the only other possibility would be the 1975/76 circus bear Barnaby, which does not fit the tone of the poem at all.
The choice is interesting because that bear was only produced by Cybis for two years: 1968 and 1969. Perhaps Ms. Whiteman recalled it from several years past, or had one of her own.
1993 nonfiction book Undue Influence
Turning to the nonfiction genre, we have Undue Influence: The Epic Battle for the Johnson & Johnson Fortune by David Margolick, first published in 1993 by William Morrow & Co. While the book focuses on the sensational court battle over the estate of J&J scion J. Seward Johnson, the Cybis reference exists in a backstory account of the eldest offspring, daughter Mary Lea Johnson, who was the child whose image had appeared on the original J&J Baby Powder packaging; she married Dr. Victor D’Arc.
The scenario related here took place in the early 1970s. In 1976, Dr. D’Arc filed for divorce, prompting a vicious and highly publicized split that in many ways foreshadowed the estate battle that is the subject of the book.
Merriewold West was the name that Mary Lea gave to the circa-1770s home she purchased in Far Hills, New Jersey after her marriage to D’Arc; her father’s castle-like estate, where she grew up, was called Merriewold. One of several oddities was a network of underground tunnels and wells the she installed on the 140-acre property. After a protracted divorce battle, the court’s mandated disposition of the Johnson/D’Arc joint assets included, amongst other things:
2. All of the stock in Merriewold West, Inc. and any other corporation formed for the purpose of dealing in art objects. 3. All art objects, including those removed by the husband from the inventory of Merriewold West, Inc., not sold prior to December 20, 1977.
I do wonder what eventually became of the Cybis collection that Mary Lea Johnson had “purred about” in the early 1970s! She passed away in May 1990. Her third husband, producer Marty Richards, then became engaged in a lengthy court battle (seems to have been a habit with this group of people) with her family over his share of Mary’s $42.5-million chunk of her late father’s estate. Richards won, but who knows where the Cybis porcelains went…if they were even still around and intact by then.
1993 nonfiction book Swordfish
Cybis made an appearance in another 1993 factual account; in this case it was Swordfish: A True Story of Ambition, Savagery and Betrayal by David McClintick. The publisher was Pantheon Books. Operation Swordfish was the code name given to the U.S. government’s successful sting operation into South American drug lord Carlos Jader Alvarez’s organization.
The backstory to the Cybis reference is this: In October 1981, three of Alvarez’s young children were kidnapped by members of a radical opposition group in Bogota, Colombia. Alvarez took matters into his own hands rather than involving the police (no surprise there.) He enlisted the help of his Miami-based financial officer (read: money launderer) Marlene Navarro.
This exchange took place while Navarro and Alvarez were preparing to leave for Bogota. The author incorrectly states that the piece (the 1956-1973 edition of ten Holy Child of Prague) was “a limited edition from Prague”, i.e., that it was made there. It was, of course, made in Trenton, New Jersey. One wonders whether the sculpture was eventually seized as part of the Alvarez assets and, if so, what ultimately became of it.
1995 how-to book Table Settings for All Seasons
In 1995 the National Council of State Garden Clubs published Table settings for all Seasons: In the home and in the flower show, by June Wood and Deen Day Smith. One of the illustrated table centerpieces is based on a Cybis sculpture.
The two examples are shown on adjacent pages, the left-hand one being Figure 50 and the right-hand being Figure 51. The caption under Fig. 50 reads:
“Land of The Rising Sun: A Unique Luncheon”. The delicately lovely Cybis porcelain Geisha was the inspiration for this exotic table setting. It is featured in the decorative unit of curly dried line material, painted gold, and peach Gerbera daisies. A lead cupholder, painted dark brown to make it less obtrusive, holds the plant materials on an exquisitely carved wood Japanese table-stand.
The sculpture is, of course, Madame Butterfly who was a 1984 introduction. One of the authors, Deen Day Smith, had an extensive collection of art porcelain including Boehm, Connoisseur of Malvern, and Royal Worcester, and so perhaps this was one of hers. (Although this one is missing her parasol!) The second photo is captioned “The same setting as shown in Fig. 50 is photographed against a deep blue background. Note how the colors have been changed and intensified by this simple change in background color.”
1997 novel All Things New
The description of Cybis porcelain in the novel All Things New is the most detailed that I have come across in any work of fiction. The author, Donna Fletcher Crow, is well-known for British historical novels; she has also written several books for children, as well as a cookbook. All Things New, a romance novel set in Oregon, was first published in 1997 by Beacon Hill Press in Kansas City. Pages 102-104 describe a scene in which the protagonist, Debbie, takes her friends Melissa and Greg into a local shop selling Cybis. This snip is from page 103:
The scene continues on the following page, as
The shop owner approached. “The Cybis factory was begun in 1940. Boleslaw Cybis and his wife came to America from Poland to paint a ceiling for the New York Exhibition. When the war started they couldn’t get home, so they opened a studio here.” He picked up a figure and ran his finger over it lovingly. “The satiny texture is achieved by grinding the clay so fine. They use a combination of American clays. No ash as there would be in bone china.”
The author clearly knew something about Cybis, despite relating some details incorrectly (it was a mural, not a ceiling; and for the 1940 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York.) I’m guessing that she used “satiny texture” to mean “bisque”, but that has nothing to do with how fine the clay particles are. All porcelain clay is ‘finely ground’, regardless of whether it contains bone ash or not. Perhaps Ms. Crow had a Cybis collection of her own; I attempted to contact her in order to inquire, but never received a reply.
2010 short story Stanley’s Statistics
The most recent book to include a mention of Cybis is the anthology More Stories from The Twilight Zone: 19 Original Stories Inspired by the Classic Series, edited by Carol Serling and published in 2010 by Tor Books. The short story Stanley’s Statistics, by Jean Rabe, contains a brief mention of the Arctic Fox:
That sculpture was introduced in 1980 and the edition was completed by 1988 – although the hypothetical value above was much overstated. The final retail price of the Fox was $4700 in 1988, and in 2011 (one year after the short story’s publication) the #23 piece sold at a Midwest auction house for $750. It seems as if the fictional value was simply wishful thinking on the author’s part.
Cybis on Television
I only know of two on-screen appearances of Cybis porcelains, other than the three promotional films commissioned by the studio itself and which fall under the category of advertising.
Finding the earlier of the two has proved elusive so far. The program was aired on at least one PBS network station and seems to have incorporated one of the Cybis short films, but additional footage was created by the PBS producer. It’s not known whether it was a 30- or 60-minute program, but there was a segment in which actress Zsa Zsa Gabor was interviewed about her Cybis collection. A collector friend of mine who lives in the Southwest recalls seeing it at the time but inquiries to the PBS network were unsuccessful in determining when and where it aired, or the availability of any copies. One report also mentioned that there was a segment showing a Dahlia ‘blooming’ inside the kiln. It would be great if I could locate a copy of that episode but so far, no luck.
The other Cybis television appearance was more recent and easier to find and view because it was part of the tv series Everybody Loves Raymond’s seventh season. Episode 11, airing on December 9, 2002, is entitled ‘The Thought That Counts’. Not only does it feature a piece of Cybis, but the plot itself revolves around it! The first 6 minutes 25 seconds of the episode is the relevant segment and where Betty Blue can be seen; sharp-eyed viewers (especially in full-screen mode) will also catch a glimpse of a Wendy. The entire episode can be watched here:
I’d love to find out how the decision was made to use Cybis pieces as the props, rather than something else, but again, inquiries produced no response. Perhaps one of the production staff was a collector. Although the exterior shots of the Everybody Loves Raymond houses were filmed in NY, the interior/room footage was shot on a Warner Brothers Studios soundstage in Burbank, CA.
If anyone knows of any other appearances of Cybis porcelain in a book, on television, or in a movie (or has information about that elusive PBS episode) I’d love to include them here! There is a contact form link below.
Images of Cybis porcelain sculptures are provided for informational and educational purposes only. All photographs are copyrighted by their owner as indicated via watermark and are used here only as reference material. Please see the copyright notice in the footer and sidebar for important information regarding the text that appears within this website.
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.