As part of their efforts to educate their retailers about the process of producing Cybis porcelains, the studio decided to supply information about certain pieces they introduced during the mid-1980s. These info-sheets, titled Technical Achievements, were included with the various new-introduction brochures, price lists, and catalogs that were sent to retail stores. Although I have found only a few of these, they do provide insights into the creation process specific to those sculptures.
An example of a Technical Achievements sheet; the retailer had put their Cybis materials into a ring binder, hence the punched holes. Originally it would have been a normal 8”x11” sheet of paper.
Shown below are the sculptures corresponding to the nine Technical Achievements sheets that were found. I have cropped the sheet to the text portion in order to optimize readability, and have added some comments of my own.
A Star is Born (limited edition, 1984)
A Star is Born was the first of the trio of ice skaters that Cybis released, starting in 1984. She is 10” high and was a limited edition of 750 that sold for $625. The two subsequent skaters, issued in 1985 and 1986, can be seen in this post.
The inadequate sculpture/base contact area resulting from the skate blades was definitely an issue. Many of the skaters seen for sale nowadays show oxidized glue in that area, probably from an owner having to get a detached figure re-mounted or doing a DIY repair. It is also possible that the studio itself began using glue rather than ‘slip.’
This photo shows the base described in the info-sheet (“glaze…simulates the appearance of ice”). It was only used for A Star Is Born.
This is the redesigned base which is larger, flatter, and unglazed. It is the base that Figure Eight (1985) and Encore (1986) are mounted on
Carousel Charger (limited edition, 1984)
This is one of the tallest of the Carousel horses at 14” high including the base, and was an edition of 325 for $1200. See the Carousel Horses post for additional views.
The mention of having to prop figures for firing is not unique to any particular piece of porcelain; it is often necessary for any sculpture that is cast from more than a single mold. The only difference is the extent of propping needed. Something like a Mr. Snowball (a single mold) does not need propping, but pretty much anything with arms, legs, fingers – anything that heat + gravity can act upon – may need some in-kiln support.
Frankly, there is very little variation between the embellishments on any one Carousel Charger versus another, although it is true that some of those elements are hand-formed. Here are two identical views of two different examples. The large blue feather section is clearly cast from a mold. The smaller (red) feathers may be mold-cast also, though it’s hard to tell from the photos; the example on the right has half of one of them broken off. The small green leaves are definitely hand-formed, as are the ribbons on the forehead (although, again, the darker example has most of the ribbons missing.) The cabochon decoration seen near the bottom center is from a mold, but attached by hand.
Madame Butterfly (limited edition, 1984)
Madame Butterfly debuted at $2875 as an edition of 500. She is 13.5” high if her parasol is in its original position as made, and shown above; it has a bad habit of becoming detached and either put back incorrectly or lost altogether. See the Music and Opera post for more views of this piece.
I do have to comment on the “very little free space” painting statement because it reflects an important change in the Cybis production process at that time. During the 1960s and 1970s, each individual paint color was fired separately; thus, there was no ‘handling challenge’ because the artist was only painting one color at a time. The piece was fired; then the next color was applied and fired, etc. This was done under Marylin Chorlton’s direction, until her death in 1977. During the 1980s, as the studio began experiencing financial problems, several procedures were changed in order to save time and money. One of those changes was to abandon the per-color firings and apply several – if not all – colors in one sitting and then fire the piece. The ideal goal was to need as few firings as possible: bisque, paint, glaze (if used), gold (if used). This did indeed make the painter’s job more difficult as far as handling the piece during the painting stage. Under the original regime, Madame Butterfly would have required about a dozen separate firings; the all-at-once method reduced that to four or five.
Othello (limited edition, 1983)
Othello was introduced as an edition of 350 selling for just under $2000. Intended as a companion piece to the 1982 Desdemona, he is 15” tall and was designed by Gertrude Fass.
As you can see, some of the info-bits are boilerplate because they applied to all sculptures of similar design structure. For example, other cape-wearing Cybis males were Richard the Lionheart (1982), King Arthur and Oberon (both 1985.)
Pueblo, ‘Eagle Dancer’ (limited edition, 1984)
Sculpted by William Pae, the Eagle Dancer stands almost 21” high on his wood base and was an edition of 200. In my opinion this and the Crow Dancer are the two best of the North American Indians series in terms of design and workmanship.
A true deep black is indeed a difficult color to achieve on bisque porcelain.
The “three-month” timeframe included the scheduling of casting and firing times. It did not make economic sense for the studio to produce pieces one at a time “to order” in a nonstop fashion from casting to final firing. A specific piece might have been sitting on a shelf in its bisque-firing stage for a month before a finisher began working on it, and it may have waited even longer to land on a painter’s desk or receive its paint firing.
1984 Decorative Egg (open edition, available one year only)
The 1984 Egg was the second in the series of four that Cybis called the Commemorative Eggs; all can be seen in the Eggs post. They are all about 5” high.This sheet provides an unusual insight into the different types of gold accents that the modern Cybis studio used, differentiating the shiny ‘brilliant gold’ from the more subtle matte-finish gold. It explains that the critical factor is whether or not the porcelain surface (normally matte/bisque) has first been glazed.
An excellent example of the very different ‘look’ of brilliant vs. matte gold is shown here. The original 1975 edition of Lady Macbeth displays both gold finishes, strategically applied. Matte gold is used for her hair ornament, bodice collar, belt body, and crown body; brilliant gold is applied to her gown’s detail pattern, as tiny accents along her belt, and as highlight details on the crown. The overall effect is of opulence. However, this 1990s Hall of Fame version eliminates all gold except for her hair ornament and crown, which are entirely done via the glaze-then-gold method. The rather tawdry (in my opinion) effect of the two shiny gold elements is made even worse by the choice of purple shades for this edition’s clothing and accessories.
Ginger Jar (open edition, 1984)
There were two slightly different ginger jars introduced in the mid-1980s, and I am not sure (because of missing some price lists) which came first. My guess is that the Virginia Bluebell Ginger Jar (upper photo) appeared in 1984, while the Rose Ginger Jar may have been also available or may have come out shortly afterward. They are the same molds, differing only in the surface decoration. Both jars were retired before 1988.
The jars and vases were among the very few Cybis designs that received an interior glaze. The various boxes did not, because it was assumed that those would not be used to hold any type of liquid.
Kitty Fisher (open edition, 1984)
Kitty Fisher (shown here on the right) was introduced in 1984 as a companion piece to 1983’s Lucy Locket shown at left. Both are from the nursery rhyme telling how “Lucy Locket lost her pocket [a purse or bag], Kitty Fisher found it.” They are both 9″ tall and sold for about $300.
The factoids on this sheet also apply to many other Cybis pieces and are not particularly unique to this one.
The “tiny rosebuds” mentioned must be these, because they are the only flowers on Kitty Fisher – but these tubular flowers don’t look much like rosebuds to me.
Polar Bear ‘Woolie’ / Woolie Bear (open edition 1984-1985, then again from 1997 onward)
This bear first appeared in Spring 1984 under the name Polar Bear ‘Woolie’. He is 5.5” tall and was retired a year and half later (Fall 1985.) The studio brought him back into their retail lineup in 1997 (quite a few retired, supposedly never-to-be-made-again, pieces were resurrected during the 1990s and this was one of them) as Woolie Bear for $395.
Like the Kitty Fisher info-sheet, this one is fairly generic. (The grammar geek that lurks in my brain can’t resist grousing that “assuring” is the wrong word: It should be ensuring, which means to make certain that something happens. Assuring implies speech, whereas ensuring implies action.)
I have no idea whether 1983 and 1984 were the only years in which Cybis created these info-sheets for retailers. These nine were a lucky inclusion in a binder of old literature from a defunct retail store; such literature was often thrown away when the store went out of business, so the odds are against finding any additional examples. Still, one never knows what might turn up on eBay!
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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.