During the ‘golden age’ of the Cybis studio’s production (1970s and 1970s) their pieces were regularly chosen to be official Gifts of State from our country to foreign dignitaries. Presidents Nixon and Ford were particularly fond of doing so, in fact, but in reality that process doesn’t begin in the Oval Office. So where does it start?
It starts and mostly remains within the US Department of State. According to their website,
The Protocol Gift Unit …. is responsible for the creation and maintenance of the official record of all gifts presented by the Department of State to officials of foreign governments. Working closely with the Chief of Protocol and the staffs of the President, the Vice President, and the Secretary of State, the Gift Unit selects the gifts presented to foreign dignitaries.
A more detailed insight is provided by a New York Times article published in February 1984, disclosing that
..a host of State Department officials, American and foreign embassy personnel, and even a special gifts officer, work behind the scenes to prepare what they hope will be the perfect gift. Weeks before a foreign dignitary arrives in Washington, the Protocol Department’s gifts officer consults with experts from the State Department and embassy staffs, both here and abroad, on customs and taboos of the leader’s country, as well as the leader’s interests and hobbies.
Clearly it’s not quite as simple as logging on to Amazon or popping in to the local HomeGoods store. The first (and written in stone) criteria is that all gifts presented on behalf of the USA must be made in America. So that eliminates such elegances as Waterford crystal and Buccellati silver right from the start. When it came to art porcelain sculptures there were only two USA names to choose from: Boehm and Cybis. Often such pieces had the Presidential Seal added either to the sculpture (if it was mounted on a base) or to a presentation case that was specially made for that gift.
The following Cybis pieces are known to have been given as Presidential gifts of state to foreign dignitaries, either when the POTUS traveled or when the dignitary visited the USA. They are arranged chronologically by Presidency.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969)
Bull ‘God of the Thunderbolt’ was given to Mexico during Johnson’s visit in September 1964. Cybis in Retrospect erroneously states that it was from the subsequent POTUS but Gerald Ford never visited Mexico, and duplicate Gifts of State are never presented to the same foreign dignitary.
The Condesa Rose was also presented to Mexico’s First Lady during the same trip, although it’s not known which of the two colorways (pink or yellow) was chosen.
When the 21-year-old Princess Christina of Sweden visited the United States in June 1965 she was presented with Ballerina ‘On Cue’.
The one of a kind enthroned Saint Peter, designed by Laszlo Ispanky, was commissioned for presentation to Pope Paul VI. Although the public presentation was made at the United Nations in October 1965, the sculpture was actually later delivered to him personally at the Vatican by Cybis directors Marylin and Joseph Chorlton. More information about this sculpture and its story can be found in Religious Sculptures.
The Iris was given to HRH Prince Philip on the occasion of his visit to New York in March 1966. It is not known which colorway (lavender or yellow) was chosen.
There is also a somewhat conflicting account of the gift of the Thoroughbred to South Korean President Park Chung Hee at the end of October in 1966. Cybis in Retrospect, published in 1971, is of little help because it mentions only that “various porcelains” were brought by Pres. Johnson to “the Manila Conference in October 1966” but does not specify which ones. The January 3, 1982 issue of the San Bernardino County Sun includes this in a staff writer article about the Cybis studio:
It was 1 a.m. on a Sunday morning in 1966, for example, when the telephone rang at the seaside home of Joseph Chorlton, head of Cybis Porcelain Studio in New Jersey. A voice explained, with apologies, that President Lyndon Johnson was leaving for the Manila Summit Conference on Monday morning and that, through an oversight, no state gift had been prepared for President Park Chung Hee of South Korea. It was the Year of the Horse. Did Cybis have available any porcelain horse sculptures, preferably brown, to match President Park’s favorite steed? Of course it did. Chorlton and his wife Marylin, an artist, climbed out of bed and drove…to their studio in Trenton. By noon, Marylin had turned a white sculpture into a horse of the right color and put it into the kiln to fire overnight. Early Monday morning the two drove with the 16-inch-high horse to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, attaching its wooden pedestal along the way.
(The standard edition of the Thoroughbred is the dapple grey shown here, and so it would have been necessary to take an unfinished white bisque model and paint it in the brown color that was requested. Because the piece was in its first year of retail production there was probably no shortage of such ‘blanks.’)
Luckily, several of the Daily Diaries of some of our Presidents are now accessible online and so I paged through the record of that 1966 South Korea visit in order to confirm the presentation of the sculpture to President Park….but without success. It may be that the gift changed hands via one of the staff members instead of being done in the presence of the POTUS, however.
Richard M. Nixon (1969-August 1974)
Not quite a gift of state but still a Presidential one was a special version of the Cybis ‘Columbia’ which was presented to the Apollo 11 astronauts to commemorate the July 1969 moon landing. Cybis literature sources differ slightly as to what the name of the special version was and how many were made. Cybis in Retrospect (1971) calls it Columbia and the Eagle and says there was one for each astronaut plus one for the White House itself, while the 1979 Cybis catalog lists it as Columbia ‘Apollo 11 Moon Mission‘ and says there were only three made. As shown above, the special versions have a round NASA insignia added in front of the standard sun-ray shield upon which Columbia’s hand rests. The retail edition, which was unusual in several ways, appears in the Born in the USA post.
After the Cybis North American Indians series was introduced in 1969 they quickly became favorite as official gifts of state. The first one was Dakota ‘Laughing Water’ Minnehaha which was given by Pres. Nixon to Mexico in August 1970.
The famed Cybis Chess Set presented by Nixon to Soviet Premier Brezhnev during the historic Moscow Summit held from May 22-30, 1972. A detailed look at this set, and its later commemorative retail issue, is given in its own post.
The Sleeping Beauty ballet pair, The Enamored Prince Florimund and The Enchanted Princess Aurora, were an additional Cybis gift during that trip, from President and Mrs Nixon to the Bolshoi Ballet, where they were put on permanent display. A coincidence is that the same freelance artist (Harry Burger) designed this pair for Cybis and also the famous Chess Set as well!
A separate gift by the Nixons, this time to the Bolshoi Choreography School, was Little Princess. This is an open edition which had already been retired. It’s not known if the Presidential gift was made in a different colorway.
Even the Russian Circus received a Cybis memento from the Nixons: the George Ivers Limnette entitled Country Fair. These three additional gifts were reported in the July 15, 1973 issue of the Shreveport, Louisiana Times in conjunction with their coverage of a large Cybis exhibit there by the Norton Art Gallery.
After the conclusion of the Summit, the POTUS traveled to Iran and presented the Ispanky-designed Horse to the Shah of Iran on May 31-June 1, 1972. (The example shown above is missing the wood base that originally came with it.)
The POTUS then went to Poland and gave at least one of the Folio One lithographs (possibly the entire set?) to the People of Poland; there is a record of Shoshone ‘Silent Thoughts’ being given during that visit.
The next Cybis gift of state by the Nixon administration was the massive Charging Buffaloes trio at the end of May 1973, to Iceland to commemorate that country’s upcoming anniversary celebration. Various print sources differ as to what “birthday” it actually was. For example, the 1979 Cybis catalog says it was for Iceland’s 1200th anniversary; another print source says it was the 1100th; and yet another cited it as the 2000th. I suppose it all depends on what point one chooses as the starting date, so the best I can do is to link to Wiki’s page on Iceland’s history!
The Soviet Premier was given another Cybis study later that year (1973) when At the Council Fire was gifted at the second Summit meeting in Washington D.C. in June… less than two months before Nixon’s resignation.
Gerald Ford (1974-1977)
At the Council Fire was obviously a popular choice for State gifts, because only three months after assuming office, President Ford gave one to South Korean President Park (the same who may or may not have ended up with a Thoroughbred from Lyndon Johnson.) The diary notes for this gift mention that the sculpture was “mounted on a walnut base, with a walnut presentation case.” The case no doubt was adorned with the Presidential Seal.
A few days later, the Eskimo Mother was supposedly presented by Ford to Brevznev in Vladivostok (Nov. 23-24, 1974) but as with the Thoroughbred this is not mentioned in the President’s Daily Diary of that trip. That does not disprove the claim that it was given, but only shows that it was not given by the President or First Lady personally.
The May 30, 1975 issue of the New York Times reported that “porcelain figurines of Little Eagle, Running Deer and Cupid [sic] are among eleven statuettes President Ford has taken with him on his European trip as gifts to heads of state. They were made by the Cybis Studios in Trenton and the base of each is imprinted with the Presidential Seal.”
Queen Esther was reportedly given to former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir “during the June 1975 peace mission.” I was unable to document such an event during that year, so perhaps what was meant was her visit to America in 1977 as a private citizen instead.
In October 1975 Emperor Hirohito of Japan visited the USA and was presented with the single American White Buffalo.
In December 1975 President and Mrs. Ford presented a Windflower to First Lady Siti Hartineh, wife of Indonesian President Suharto. This gift was originally mistakenly reported by the New York Times as having been a Boehm sculpture but the newspaper later published a correction. It’s not known which colorway of this piece was the gift of state.
The Colonial Flower Basket, containing the state flower of each of the thirteen original colonies, was given to Queen Elizabeth II in 1976 during her American Bicentennial visit.
There are a few murky gift-dates during the Ford administration. For example, a newspaper clipping reported that “Four of the Cybis Indian sculptures were the choice of the United States Senate for presentation to the Chinese during the epic-making [sic] mission marking the reopening of trade relations with that country.” In addition to the awkward syntax, this is slightly incorrect: it was the Joint Chiefs of Staff who visited China (not a Senate delegation) and they did not accompany Nixon on his historic trip there in 1972. Supposedly the four Cybis pieces were given to Chou En Lai and Mao Tse Tung. Based on their retail introduction dates, they were probably the Blackfeet Medicine Man, Minnehaha, Hiawatha, and either Sacajawea or At the Council Fire. This probably took place in the mid 1970s during which years both Ford and Carter increased relations with China, leading up to full diplomatic relations being restored in 1979.
Vice President Nelson Rockefeller took several of Cybis’ just-released George Washington Bust with him as gifts during his European tour in 1975.
Jimmy Carter (1977-1981)
The first official record of a Cybis gift during the Carter years is the impressive Great Horned Owl ‘KoosKoosKoos’ at the very end of December 1977. It was probably the white version shown above (rather than the brown, shown in Cybis Owls) because a contemporary newspaper article reports that
One such item among the three trunkloads of gifts accompanying Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter is a 19-inch tall unglazed bisque porcelain owl. “We’re indeed flattered,” said Cybis president Joseph Chorlton of Carter’s decision to present the owl to the people of Poland for exhibition in the Royal Palace of Warsaw.
A Cybis piece with a very long history is the Madonna ‘House of Gold’ which dates back to 1957 under the Cybis name and even earlier as a Cordey. One of them was given to Pope John Paul II at his inauguration at the Vatican in October 1978. This sculpture was produced by Cybis from 1957 until 1965, and the 50s examples did vary in color and decoration; see the Early Madonnas post for several versions. I’ve chosen a photo of this version because it a 1978 newspaper account described the sculpture presented to the Pope has having “a gold crown and gold base.”
The Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT II) signing in 1979 was the occasion for the presentation of the Turtle Doves ‘Doves of Peace’ to Leonid Brezhnev. Despite the ceremony, the treaty itself was never put into force because it was superceded by the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START) in 1991. There’s no indication that a second Cybis was part of that event, however! This sculpture was originally created by Marylin Chorlton.
The upper dove in the Gift of State offers a sprig of olive(?) leaves in his beak; that element is not part of the retail edition of the sculpture.
The yellow Condesa Rose was a gift to Queen Sophia of Spain during a Presidential visit in late June 1980.
America’s official wedding gift to Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer in 1981 was the Eskimo Mother shown previously.
Pope John Paul’s final visit to the USA took place in 1979. Although I could find no record of a Cybis being given to him by President Carter, the Pope did receive three of them from other official sources.
Noah was presented to the Pope in Philadelphia.
An artist’s proof of The Bride was a gift from Governor Brendan Byrne of New Jersey. The history and more views of this sculpture can be seen in its own post.
And while the Pope was in Washington, D.C. the Knights of Columbus presented him with this one of a kind Infant of Prague Plaque. (The subsequent retail edition can be seen here; it differs only in the framing.)
Ronald Reagan (1981-1989)
Although I can find no record – either in his Daily Diaries or in newspaper reports – of President Reagan giving any Cybis as a gift of state, he was presented with at least one himself (the first Elephant.) There may have been something though, because the Diaries do show that Ida Julian, identified therein as “President, Cybis” attended the state dinner on April 17, 1985 for Algerian President Chadli Bendjedid. The Washington Post reported her among the 110 guests which also included First Lady Nancy Reagan’s astrologer Joan Quigley. So perhaps there was either a gift presented or Cybis pieces were used as part of the table decorations.
Miscellaneous and Unconfirmed Presentations
The history of the remaining pieces as gifts of state have been cited in some way but not confirmed:
A Thoroughbred given to South Korea, either by President Ford (Nov. 22-23, 1974) or Carter (June 29-July 1, 1979.) However, this report would seem to contradict the rule that no duplicates should be given.
Moses ended up in the Vatican but we have no idea when or under what circumstances.
Eros was a gift to Mother Theresa but there’s no indication of when, where, or by whom.
China received a Windflower but the colorway and occasion are unknown.
In an odd turn of events, Sacajawea was a gift to the Prince and Princess of Wales in 1981 to celebrate the birth of Prince William, but not from the USA; we sent a child-sized mahogany reproduction of a Chippendale chair, made by a North Carolina furniture company. But the Cybis present caused a bit of a stir in the Canadian Parliament when House member Howard Crosby of Halifax questioned Secretary of State Serge Joyal about the it:
Q. Was the sculpture given to the Prince and Princess of Wales as Canada’s official gift commemorating the birth of their child?
Q. What is the connection between the sculpture and Canada or any person or place within Canada?
A. The sculpture in question was given to Their Royal Highnesses the Prince and Princess of Wales by the Province of Manitoba to commemorate the birth of their son.
Q. Did the Government not provide a gift that had some real connection with Canada and that would benefit Canadian artists or craftsmen and the Canadian arts and crafts industry and, if not, for what reason?
A. The Government of Canada did not provide an official gift on behalf of the Canadian people to commemorate the birth of the son of the Prince and Princess of Wales because it is Canadian custom that official gifts are not given on behalf of the Canadian people to mark such events.
I have no idea why Canada (the nation) doesn’t give celebratory gifts to the British royal family but its provinces are allowed to do so; maybe a Canadian reader can explain it?
“Designated” and “Contingency” Gifts of State
In addition to the official/formal Gifts of State taken by US officials on trips abroad, there are also extras that are known as “designated gifts”. According to State Department regulations, Designated Gifts are only to be used in case an unexpected gift is given to the President, First Lady, or Secretary of State – in other words, extras packed in the luggage as insurance against social embarassment. For example, during the Fords’ trip to China with Secretary Kissinger, declassified State Department records show that the following extra Cybis were brought along with them as Designated gifts from the President and/or First Lady: for Madame Chiang Ch’ing, wife of Mao Tse Tung, a Snow Crocus that was 9″ high and 10″ long (my guess is that it was a white version of the Dutch Crocus); for Chairman Chu Te, a Great White Heron; and for the wife of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, a Magnolia with the Presidential Seal on the accompanying wood base.
Contingency Gifts are the next rung down the ladder, and basically they are “extra” extra items just in case all of the Designated Gifts have already been distributed.
The Case of the Phantom Pegasus
Thanks to WikiLeaks we can end with a tale of a typical bureaucratic snafu, this one occurring in 1974 when President Ford’s administration chose Pegasus as our gift sent to Grenada “as a symbol of a new nation trying its wings.” A lovely sentiment but as the following State Department cables show, one that was doomed from the start by Murphy’s Law.
From US Embassy Barbados to US Dept of State, Feb 8, 1974:
INDEPENDENCE GIFT TO GRENADA ARRIVED WITH BROKEN WING TIP AND PRESENTATION WAS NOT MADE. PLEASE ADVISE DISPOSITION OF DAMAGED GIFT AND IF REPLACEMENT CAN BE MADE IMMEDIATELY.
Reply from State Dept, Feb 27 1974:
PLEASE SEND CAREFULLY REWRAPPED PORCELAIN FIGURE ON APPROPRIATE RETURN FLIGHT TO J.F. KENNEDY AIRPORT NEW YORK MARKED FOR DELIVERY TO MR. JOSEPH CHAROLTON, [sic] CYBIS, INC. 65 NORMAN AVENUE, NEW JERSEY 08618. PLEASE INSURE FOR A THOUSAND DOLLARS. CYBIS PREPARING REPLACEMENT NOW. AS SOON AS READY IT WILL BE FORWARDED TO YOU FOR APPROPRIATE PRESENTATION. WILL NOTIFY YOU PRIOR TO SHIPMENT.
Followup from Embassy in Barbados to State Dept, May 10th 1974:
PLEASE ADVISE WHEN POST MAY EXPECT RETURN OF GRENADA INDEPENDENCE GIFT. GIFT WAS SHIPPED TO CYBIS INC ON MARCH 20 FOR REPAIR AS DIRECTED BY REFTEL.
Reply from State Dept on May 16th
NEW CYBIS SCULPTURE OF PEGASUS COMPLETED THIS WEEK. SEEKING PERSON KNOWN-TO-DEPARTMENT GOING ON DIRECT FLIGHT FROM NEW YORK TO BRIDGETOWN TO ACCOMPANY PIECE TO ENSURE ITS SAFETY OR OTHER MEANS CONSIDERED MOST SAFE. ANY RECOMMENDATION FROM EMBASSY WOULD BE APPRECIATED.
Followup from Embassy to State Dept on June 18th
EMBASSY HAS MADE NO RECOMMENDATIONS AS TO HOW DEPT CAN GET NEW CYBIS SCULPTURE OF PEGASUS FROM NEW YORK TO BRIDGETOWN SAFELY BECAUSE IT HASN’T HAD ANY SUGGESTIONS TO MAKE, BUT BELIEVE THIS REPLACEMENT GIFT SHOULD ARRIVE BEFORE GRENADA ADMITTED TO UN. POSSIBLY WILLIAM MOORE EXPECTED ARRIVE THIS POST JULY 15 COULD BE ROUTED THROUGH N.Y. TO ACCOMPLISH THIS CHORE. MOOSE AND MOORE EXPECTED TO TRAVEL GRENADA DURING TEN DAYS AFTER MOORE’S ARRIVAL AND MOOSE’S DEPARTURE. COULD PRESENT GIFT AT THAT TIME.
From Dept of State to US Embassy on July 31st (six weeks later…….)
GIFT WILL ARRIVE AUGUST 1, AT 6:42 P.M., EA FLIGHT 777 FROM SAN JUAN. PICKUP SHOULD BE WITHIN THREE HOURS TO AVOID NECESSITATING ANY DELIVERY CHARGE TO EMBASSY. AIRLINE WISHES NOT TO STORE DUE TO NATURE OF PACKAGE. ANY ASSISTANCE APPRECIATED. REGRET DELAY. KISSINGER
From Embassy to Dept of State on August 2nd
GIFT DID NOT ARRIVE PER REFTEL. PLEASE ADVISE.
Followup from Embassy to Dept of State on August 13th 1974 (six months after the initial cable)
AS PREVIOUSLY REPORTED IN REF B, GRENADA GIFT DID NOT ARRIVE AS SCHEDULED. GIFT HAS STILL NOT ARRIVED. IMPOSSIBLE BEGIN TRACER ACTION FROM BRIDGETOWN SINCE DETAILS GIFT’S METHOD TRANSPORTATION UNKNOWN. PLEASE ADVISE.
Unfortunately that’s where the WikiLeaks trail ends, so we have no idea whether the replacement Pegasus ever safely “flew” to Grenada! Grenada was admitted to the UN on Sept 17, 1974… just about a month after the final cable. The 1979 Cybis catalog does list “Governor’s Mansion, Grenada” as one of the locations of at least one Cybis piece – perhaps that is the peripatetic Pegasus? However, the building suffered damage on two subsequent occasions: during the October 1983 intervention by the US Navy SEALS, and then in 2004 when Hurricane Ivan so badly damaged the Mansion that it became uninhabitable. Four years later the building was still in ruins and it’s not known what ultimately happened to any of the contents.
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