Earlier this year, an Archive reader alerted me to an unusual Cybis child figure and asked what it was. It appears to have been part of a numbered series of child figures representing different countries, but which were very different from the ‘Children of the World’ retail portrait busts.
The child figure itself was taken from the open edition Ariel, who was introduced in 1981 and retired in 1983:
The only alteration, for the mystery figure, is the removal of the wings, a different color for the collar, and the addition of a rope belt and shamrock. The base section is decorated with greenery, flowers, and a second four-leaf clover.
Here is where things really get interesting: The underside has Ireland and May 1982 written in gold paint. At first glance, this may seem to be some type of vacation or travel memento but it is not. The ‘handwriting’ is typical for a Cybis piece, and the studio also never made that type of item specifically. They also never did any event in Ireland, nor even marketed Cybis outside of the USA.
Things get even more interesting in the signature area, where the figure is not only numbered but the edition size is also indicated! The studio almost never did this, although at least one other instance is known: The retailer-event piece Pat-a-Cake in White with Carrot, which are individually numbered and also include the edition size of 200. However, that was an anomaly because the event pieces were not usually numbered and almost never had the edition/run size shown as well.
The fact that the mystery figure has such a small ‘edition’ size (12) means that it could not possibly have been a retailer event piece; there were typically 100, 200, or 400 of those. It also prompts yet another question, which I’ll address in a moment.
So, who exactly is this figure? It turns out that he also has a name – Iarlaif – according to the accompanying ‘info-card’ from Cybis, and that he is an “elf child.” The reference to “thanks” immediately suggests that this was a piece created for a fund-raising event.
You know I had to google the name/word. However, none of the results referenced anything about elves; they all cite the name as meaning ‘leader’, ‘prince’, or ‘lord of the West.’ And thanks to YouTube, I even learned how it is pronounced! It is not spoken as it appears (eye-ar-layf), but instead more like “EAR-lawf”, with a slight rolling of the r.
The big question is, of course, the ambiguous meaning of “twelve.” Were there twelve Iarlaifs, of which this example is #9? That would be the instinctive interpretation, based on how Cybis normally handled their numbered editions. But perhaps not this time?
If there were indeed twelve of the same, then why bother writing Ireland on the underside of the sculpture? This designation suggests that there may have been other pieces (either cast from the same Ariel mold, or from various other small Cybis child figures) representing a child from a different country; in that case, writing the country name on the underside would serve a purpose, even if the accompanying info-card was lost.
There is a precedent for the studio having done a number of entirely different modified-open-edition pieces under a single theme: The 50 ‘dressed-up’ animals that were done for a charity auction during the 1970s. The American Bullfrog ‘Enchanted Prince’ received a bonnet and apron, and became Aunt Betsy Trotwood. The duckling Baby Brother was given an umbrella and galoshes, and christened April Rain. If the same method was followed for these 1982 pieces, there could easily have been twelve different international child pieces, each with their origin country written on the underside.
The very helpful reader who sent me these photos of her Iarlaif also sent me a picture of the box that he came in. It is a generic gift box in a cube shape, but it also has a small white sticker with 9/12 written on it. This would have been the type of box used for pieces destined for a private event rather than retail.
I would love to find out whether Iarlaif was one of a … hmmm, there is no word for twelve identical offspring! The scale only goes from two (twins) to nonuplets (nine.) Well, let’s make up our own, then. The Latin word for twelve is duodecim, so maybe twelve identical children (very scary thought…) could be called duoduplets. Is this Iarlaif a duoduplet? Or is he one member of a United-Nations series of twelve international children? I do lean toward the latter interpretation because – if my guess about these being created for a 1982 charity or fund-raising auction is correct – people would be more interested in bidding on one of twelve different items.
If anyone recognizes anything about the known circumstances surrounding Iarlaif and his siblings/friends, I would love to be able to solve this mystery! Even finding only a second example of Iarlaif – or a similarly-marked but entirely different Cybis child – would immediately answer the ‘Twelve of what??’ question. There is a contact form link below.
Thanks again to the very helpful (and patient!) Archive reader who has brought Iarlaif to light!
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