Perhaps the most notable achievement of the Cybis Studio during its almost 75-year existence may be their North American Indian studies. Inaugurated as a limited series beginning in 1969, their finely detailed representations of the major Native American tribes have been widely appreciated by collectors.
Boleslaw Cybis was fascinated by the native peoples of his adopted country and his portfolio of portrait drawings are an entire collector genre in themselves. Although the porcelain series wasn’t inaugurated until more than 20 years after his death they are an homage to his talent and skill. The sculptor (designer) of the initial 1969-1974 series was Helen Granger Young, an artist based in western Canada. She was not a Cybis in-house artist but designed the series for them on commission. Before examining the sculptures themselves, there are two important things to explain about this collection.
Limited Edition Sizes
The original (first) series of North American Indians had introduction dates ranging from 1969 to 1974. All of those sculptures were limited edition runs of 500, but 350 of them were to be sold by USA retailers only, while 150 were designated for export only. These are the only porcelains which Cybis ever offered in separate “domestic” and “export” edition quantities. All of the sculptures were produced at the Cybis studio in Trenton, and all were made from the same design mold and had the same bases (except as noted below). There was no duplication of sculpture numbers. To be honest I don’t really understand why the distinction was made and have never heard of a rationale for it; for instance, if someone living in France wanted one and learned that all of the “non-USA” pieces had already sold out, he could theoretically obtain it by purchasing from a USA retailer and then either bringing it or having it shipped to France. At that time, all in-production Cybis was sold only via their retail dealer network.
The two open edition child head busts (Indian Boy ‘Little Eagle’ and Indian Girl ‘Running Deer’) which can be seen in Child Portrait Busts do not represent any specific Native American tribe. Cybis always included these under the general heading of either ‘Children to Cherish’ or ‘Children of the World’ rather than within the North American Indians. By the way, although mindful that there are differing current opinions regarding the usage of “Native American” versus “American Indian” as a descriptive, I am using the Cybis Studio’s name for the collection.
There is room for considerable confusion and misinformation regarding the presence, absence, and in some cases the appearance of the wood bases for the North American Indians. The short answer is that ALL of these sculptures introduced in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s were issued as mounted onto a wood base. This is fact. So if you happen to see any of those offered for sale without a base they should not be considered to be in 100% original condition.
So why the confusion? It arises from several sources, two of which stem from the Cybis studio itself.
CYBIS ADVERTISING PHOTOGRAPHS: Cybis unfortunately has a history of sometimes photographing a piece without the base that was part of the actual retail sculpture sold. An example of this can be found in their very first (1965) catalog, in which the Ballerina ‘On Cue’ is shown perched on only the vertical part of her standard L-shaped base. Their 1979 catalog depicts the Wood Wren with Dogwood lacking the base that always accompanied the retail sculpture; conversely, the same catalog contains photos of sculptures on a base that they were never sold with! The Cybis advertising photo of Kateri Tekakwitha does not include a base even though all the retail sculptures had one. Their single “official” photo of the Yaqui ‘Deer Dancer’ which appears in the 1985 introduction brochure, the 1986 catalog, and the current Cybis website does not show a base; that website photo is cropped so as to exclude the bottom of the sculpture. Every other photograph of an actual sculpture that I have seen – except for one, bearing sculpture #65, sold by Bunte Auction Services in late 2014 – shows it on a wood base. Former Cybis retailer Dorothy Farrar, who sold many of the Indians sculptures, told me that “all of the Deer Dancers received by her gallery from Cybis included the wood base.” That is a fact: Cybis did create and sell these sculptures with a base, regardless of what their website photo now shows or what an online seller may claim to the contrary. The official Cybis advertising photo cannot always be relied upon to determine whether or not any particular sculpture’s retail edition did or did not originally include a wood base.
CYBIS OFFICIAL DIMENSIONS: To confuse things even more, an official Cybis description sometimes included the qualifier “on base” or “with base” – but not always. However, the cited height of a sculpture always included the thickness of the wood base if the piece was sold either attached to or accompanied by one.
The aforementioned Yaqui ‘Deer Dancer’ is a perfect example. The official Cybis photograph does not show a base even though the sculptures that were sold at retail all had one. The sculpture height given by Cybis in all of their print and digital media is 19.5”. If you measure just the porcelain (not the base) it is 17.5” high. The wood base is just about 2” thick. Thus, Cybis correctly advertises the Yaqui ‘Deer Dancer’ as being 19.5” high because the sculpture was attached to its wood base. Thus the #65 example cited above was missing its base. When determining whether or not a sculpture originally had a wood base, always refer to the height cited by Cybis in their literature. If your piece is shorter than that height, there are only two possibilities: either it is missing its original base, or it is a Hall of Fame replica. If there was never a HOF edition of the sculpture, then your piece is missing its original base. Only one of the North American Indians (the Eagle Dancer) was ever reissued in a HOF format. A list of all the Cybis HOF editions can be found here.
PACKING AND SHIPPING: Cybis had three different categories of sculptures with bases.
(1) Those that were physically mounted to the wood base using a bolt and washer or toggle; this is the case with the various heads/busts and is the reason for the felt covering on the bottom of the wood base (to cover the access hole.)
(2) Those that were designed so as to fit into their specially designed wood base, or vice versa.
This shows the bottom part of a Hiawatha that was sold without its original base; the top of the base was recessed in order to accept this part of the porcelain figure.
(3) Those that were sold with an accompanying flat base upon which the sculpture could simply be placed for display (the Wood Wren with Dogwood, Pinto Colt, Darby and Joan, et al.)
When packed for shipment, the sculptures in category #1 were of course packed “as is”; the bases remained attached to the porcelain. However, when packing sculptures in categories #2 and #3, the two elements were usually separated for safety in shipment, because Cybis pieces were not wrapped in plastic or bubble pak; they were surrounded only by finely shredded styrofoam “snow”. In many instances the base might be packed in an entirely separate box, rather than having the ‘base-box’ placed within the box containing the porcelain itself. This was especially true for the large limited editions; the solid mahogany base for the American White Buffalo weighed almost 10 lbs and was packaged separately from the buffalo itself. Cybis’ retail galleries were aware of this multi-box shipment routine and made sure that each sculpture was reunited with its base, but in the secondary market anything can (and does) happen. A former Cybis retailer who has often been asked by auction houses to identify Cybis pieces recently told me “Quite often the figurines and bases are packed separately for shipment or moving and then are never reunited. I can’t tell you how many times I have viewed auctions and found bases for sculptures piled in a box to be sold separately.” Clearly it’s a matter of pure luck if a Cybis is re-sold along with its original base. The surprise may be that so many pieces do manage to retain them in their ‘travels’!
The sculptures introduced between 1969 and 1974 were all editions of 500, separated into 350 for the USA market and 150 for export. Some of these edition sizes were changed during production; those are noted below. If an edition size change is not mentioned, that means it was the original 350/150 split.
Two heights are shown in my descriptions: the overall (including base) and the porcelain-only (not including base). I have added the “porcelain-only” height to assist in the identification of sculptures whose base has been lost. “Issue price” refers only to the price when the piece was first issued and does not reflect any subsequent price increases by Cybis before the edition was completed. The names are shown as originally given by Cybis in their literature; the tribal name was always shown first.
For some editions there was a change by Cybis in the actual style of the base; this is noted in the descriptions.
Blackfeet, ‘Beaverhead’ Medicine Man 1969–1981; 11.5” on base, sculpture is 9.5”h. This was the first of the series, with an issue price of $2000 and a closing price of $2875. The base shown is the original style (routed dark wood) which I believe was used for the entire edition.
Dakota, ‘Laughing Water’ Minnehaha 1969; 11” on base, sculpture is 9” high. Her issue price was $1500. Closing date is unknown other than that it was after 1982; by then her price was $2250 and she was marked as “near closing.” Although the USA edition size was still 350 as of that year, the International edition size had been already reduced to only 75.
Onandaga, ‘Hiawatha’ 1969; 11.5” on base, sculpture is 10” h . Cybis literature says 10” with base which confusingly implies that the base was included in that measurement but it is not. Issue price was $1500, and closing date was after 1982, at which point his price was $2250 also. Like Minnehaha, his export edition size was reduced to only 75.
A recently discovered Florida newspaper article dated 1970 included an interview with Marylin and Joseph Chorlton, and said that “They are doing research for the series of porcelains from Cybis which depicts North American Indian tribes. The Seminoles will be among the tribes to follow the Dakota, Onondaga and Blackfeet in the collection. ” This is quite interesting because Cybis did not end up including a Seminole sculpture in the series; was a prototype designed by the artist but not chosen for release?
Shoshone, ‘Sacajawea’ issued in 1971’ 11” on base, sculpture is approximately 9.5” h. Issue price was $2250. The original edition split of 350/150 was reduced to 350 total (for USA and export) by 1982 at which point her price was $2775. It may be that none were exported. Here Sacajawea is shown with her baby son, Jean-Baptiste Charbonneau, who was born during the early stages of the Lewis and Clark expedition. An artist’s proof of this sculpture was Canada’s official gift to Prince Charles and Lady Diana upon the birth of Prince William. The Cybis copyright registration for this sculpture also includes the name of the freelance designer (Helen Granger Young) which was something Cybis almost never did.
Cree, ‘Magic Boy’ is 15″ on base; sculpture is 13″ high. This piece was created in honor of the Manitoba Centennial and was offered in two colorways but not at the same time. The white was limited to only 100 worldwide, sold for $2500, and was made in 1971, 1972 and 1973 only. The color version seems to have been introduced a decade later, because a 1988 Cybis price list includes it as a limited edition of 200 priced at $4995. That edition, too, is now closed.
Iroqois, ‘At the Council Fire’, Dekanawida and Atotarho made from 1973-1981; 14” on base, sculpture approx 12”. The issue price was $4250. The original 350/150 edition split was reduced to only 225 total before closing before closing at a price of $4975; it may be that none were sold internationally. The autumn 1973 price list which introduced this piece says “This sculpture comprises two important historical figures of the Iroquois – the prophet, saint and mystic Dekanawida and the Keeper of the Council Fire and Sacred Wampum, Atotarho.” The same Cybis retail price list also cites the sculpture as being sold with its own vitrine. I have only once seen it offered for sale on the secondary market with the vitrine included.
Apache ‘Chato’ 1974; 13.25” on base, sculpture is approximately 11.25”. Its issue price was $1950 and by 1988 this had risen to $3300. Originally this sculpture was produced with the same routed dark wood base that was used for the ‘Beaverhead’ Medicine Man shown above. However, during Chato’s production run Cybis suddenly could no longer obtain these bases from that woodworker and thus they switched to the smooth wood base seen in the second photograph. Both of these bases are legitimate and original. An interesting side note is that when US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger traveled to the Middle East to broker peace negotiations he brought with him two copies of Chato; they were presented to the Arab and Israeli negotiating teams as a reminder of “the importance of communication.”
Chato marks the end of the USA/non-USA geographical limited edition split; all of the subsequent North American Indian sculptures had a single worldwide edition size which was the Cybis “norm.”
Crow Dancer ‘Great Thunder’ 1977–1981; 19” on base, sculpture is 17.5” h; an edition of 200 with an issue price $3875.
Sioux, ‘Wankan Tanka’ The Great Spirit 1979, 18.25” on base, sculpture is 16.25” h. An edition of 200, issue price $3500; it was near closing in 1982 priced at $4150. In 1981 the Republican National Committee presented Ronald Reagan with this sculpture which Cybis director Joseph Chorlton in a newspaper interview jokingly referred to as “Hail to The Chief.”
Mohawk, Kateri Tekakwitha. Issued in 1981, she was a limited of 100 in white only, priced at $2975. Unlike the Cree ‘Magic Boy’, there was no color version of this piece. She is 13.5” high (porcelain) on a 6.25” high wood base which Cybis did not include in their official photograph above. The photograph below shows an actual retail sculpture upon its base.
Her name is prorounced Kat-ee-ree Tek-a-kwee-ta and she was also known as the ‘Lily of the Mohawks’. Born in 1656, she died in April 1680 and was canonized as a Roman Catholic saint in 2012. Some Cybis/retailer advertising gives the name of this piece as Kateri Tekakwitha ‘Lily of the Mohawks’.
Choctaw, Tascalusa lacrosse player, 1982; 16” on base, sculpture is 14.5” h. An issue of 200, it sold for $3500 in 1988.
Pueblo, Eagle Dancer 1984; 20.75” on base, sculpture is 18.5” h, issue 200. Retail price in 1988 was $3995. This piece was sculpted by William Pae.
Important Note: There was at least one Hall of Fame replica of the Eagle Dancer, and possibly a second as well, because the 2008 Cybis site listed Eagle Dancer III as a HOF piece although there were no dimensions given and the price shown was $0. I’ve been unable to determine whether this second replica edition was completed or whether it was was planned but never actually offered for sale. In any case there must have been an Eagle Dancer II, in other words a first HOF replica prior to III. Neither of the replica editions would have included a base. As far as sculpture size, the typical downscaling from the original mold to a HOF replica is about 2” and so I’d expect the Eagle Dancer II to be about 16” high and then the Eagle Dancer III to be about 14” high. Hopefully this will serve as a guideline for future sellers and buyers despite the woeful lack of information from Cybis about these editions. To the best of my knowledge this is the only Cybis Native American sculpture that was replicated as a HOF piece. If any reader has either of them and would like to share a photo, please let me know via the direct-contact form on the About the Cybis Archive page.
Yaqui, Deer Dancer was introduced in 1985 as a limited edition of 200; retail pricing was $2500 in 1988. It is 19.5” on its base; the porcelain sculpture itself is 17.5”. The photo above shows the sculpture as it was sold to retailers by Cybis; it uses the same base as the Eagle Dancer introduced the year before.
The three sculptures below do not depict any specific tribe and thus technically the Deer Dancer can be considered the ‘endpoint’ of the North American Indian series in that respect – the final three sculptures are all generic in nature because they do not represent any specific tribe.
Young Brave is 13.5” high and does not have a wood base. A limited issue of 750 in 1987 at $725 and last seen on the Cybis site for $995 where it was listed as Indian Boy, Young Brave. Obviously the bird has become detached from the boy’s hand in the second example, but I am including the photo in order to show the piece from a second angle.
Fire Dancer is an issue of 200, probably introduced in the early 1990s (exact year unknown) and standing 14” high. No specific tribe is depicted. The only extant photo is this Cybis one which does not show a base but as we know, we cannot rely on that 100% for accuracy! Close examination of the photograph reveals that the sculpture is set atop something covered by a black cloth. However, my gut feeling is that is does not have a base, because of the cited height of 14”; for it to have the typical 2” wood base the sculpture would have to be only 12” high. Pricing history is unknown.
The Indian Warrior (which may have been originally named Proud Warrior) sculpture is 17” high. It does not seem to depict any specific tribe. As with the Fire Dancer, the only photo is the Cybis one which does not show a base but clearly that is not definitive. My educated guess is that it does not have one but I will await discovery of additional non-Cybis-origin photographs to settle the question. This was a limited edition of 200 from the 1990s; no pricing history.
I cannot omit mention of a sculpture that would have been among the very best of the examples shown above, had it been greenlighted for retail production by the studio. I have dubbed it the Wolf Hunter which is shown in its clay model stage in my William Pae Artist Profile post.
Those who are interested in Native American portraits may find the Folio One post interesting as well.
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