(July 23, 1895 - May 30, 1957)
For whatever reason, Boleslaw Cybis and his wife, Maria, left the United States in 1939 after painting two murals in the Polish Pavilion of the New York World's Fair, one of which was called "Poles Fighting for American Independence," and were stopped on October 23, 1939, when the Cunard ocean liner Georgic brought them from Southampton, England. They did not break any travel rules. German troops invaded Poland on September 1 and, instead of going back to their homeland under German occupation, they wanted to return to the United States. But the officials of Ellis Island locked them up and declared them enemy aliens, undesirable, or whatever would fit their decision. Two days later Cybis appealed and, after a hearing on November 6, the husband and wife were admitted into the country.
Had he not won his appeal, Cybis would never have spent another day in an American pottery works. The beautiful porcelain he created, now in hundreds of art galleries and museums and private collections, and his name are synonymous. It became a tradition for the President of the United States and other notables to present Cybis porcelains as gifts to foreign heads of state. To mark Pope Paul's historic visit to the United Nations, Francis Cardinal Spellman ordered an enthroned figure of St. Peter from Cybis.
Cybis's rise to fame had modest beginnings. He was born July 23, 1895, in Wilno, Lithuania, the son of Franciszek Cybis, a renowned Polish architect and engineer, and was going to St. Petersburg's Academy of Fine Arts in 1917 when he dropped out in a vain effort to defeat the Bolsheviks who wanted to overthrow the Russian czar. Then he fled to Constantinople, Turkey, and used his art training, unpolished as it was, to support himself by sketching people he met on sidewalks and in nightclubs, helping other artists with billboard advertising, and creating posters for theatrical shows. He also learned to make clay pipes and sell them to buy bread, goat's milk, and other food. When he could afford it, he went to Warsaw and studied in the Academy of Fine Arts under professor Tadeusz Pruszkowski. He graduated in 1925 and the following year married Maria Tym, who was born October 13, 1904, and was still an art student.
From then until the elegant Polish ship Batory brought him and his wife to New York on March 11, 1939, he displayed a wide range of artistic talent, ranging from bas reliefs to tapestry, or as one writer described it "a catalogue of peripatetic artistry." Among his activities, he studied old masters in Italy and painted people in African tribal villages. He exhibited his works in art galleries wherever he could in Europe and the United States; in 1933 at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the Chicago Museum of Art; in 1934 and 1937 in Carnegie Institute at Pittsburgh; and 1941 in the Detroit Institute of Art.
In 1940, when Boleslaw and Maria Cybis moved to the three story Steinway mansion in Astoria, where Steinway pianos have been made since the 1870s, they invited other artists to share their studio as Polish artists did in Warsaw in the 1930s. Among those who were wrapped up in painting, clay, tapestries, and other projects at the studio was a daughter of Polish immigrants in Meriden, Connecticut, Mary(later lin was added) Kozuch, who not only helped on the World's Fair project but also reworded, if necessary, the Polish of Cybis into English. She took over the Cybis Studio when the Cybises passed away and ran it with her husband until her death in the 1970s. The portrait of the great Paderewski, who sat for Cybis in Astoria, where the Steinways gave him a grand piano, was never completed because of the pianist's death on June 29, 1941, in his retreat at the Buckingham Hotel across the bridge. Cybis probably attended the Solemn Requiem Mass for Paderewski at St. Patrick's Cathedral.
Beginning in Astoria, Cybis was fascinated with the difficult art of making porcelain sculptures, which was created in China and discovered by Marco Polo in 1298, and Benjamin Franklin noted in 1773 that Philadelphia had ceramic works and wondered whether others would follow. For the first time in his life, Cybis made colorful figures of birds, flowers, animals, and other objects in porcelain, and found buyers as soon as they were done.
Because he couldn't handle the demand for his decorative art in Astoria, Cybis moved his studio in 1942 to Trenton, New Jersey, where he had easy access to clay deposits and coal, and stocked it with artists from old European ateliers. After installing kilns in an old carriage house, the owners of Cybis Studio, as the pottery works was called, bought a tract of land in Princeton, New Jersey, on which to build their home. Few, if any, chroniclers of Princeton have described it. In 2005, I sent my assistant, Peter Obst, to find out what kind of a house Cybis built. He didn't see it! It was hidden behind a tall stockade fence. "Nature Preserve" was written on the gate. It was there at 38 Greenhouse Drive that the Cybises took their own lives, Boleslaw on May 30, 1957, and Maria, June 14, 1958. Their bodies were cremated.
Their oldest employee, Marylin, and her husband, Joseph C. Chorlton, who grew up in Trenton in an old pottery family, kept the Cybis name alive and maintained Cybis' high quality. On November 29, 1991, Chorlton turned the stockroom of the Cybis atelier, now in a run down section of Trenton, into a showroom to display the magnificent sculptures that Cybis created. Some of them, in limited editions, were for sale. For example, the price of "Doves of Peace," which Cybis issued in 1957 at $350, was set at $4,500. Not everyone will remember his works. In Cybis in Retrospect, the New Jersey State Museum has listed everthing in chronological order.
From: Edward Pinkowski (2008)
Decorator, artist. Born in Wilno, Poland. Studied art at the School of Fine Arts, Warsaw, Poland. In 1937 was appointed instructor of art at the school of Fine Arts, Warsaw, Poland. He belonged to the artistic school of St. Lukes following in his artistic career the traditional methods of painting as used in the 16th and the 17th centuries. In 1933 one of his paintings was purchased by the Museum of Art in Dayton, Ohio. His works were exhibited in America since 1933. His first artistic exhibit took place at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, 1933; Chicago Museum of Art and in Museum of Art, Dayton, Ohio. Carnegie Institute exhibited his works in 1933, 1937 and 1938. He came to U.S. in 1939 to make two mural decorations for the Polish Pavilion at the New York World's Fair, 1939-1940. He also made beautiful mural decorations on three Polish transatlantic steamers, "Pilsudski," "Batory" and "Chrobry." Cybis executed beautiful fresco work in the Geographical Institute of Warsaw. He received a diploma at the International Fair in Paris for his artistic work. Few years before the World War II he specialized mostly in fresco painting. With his wife he executes in his studio in New York City beautiful ornamental decorations. His paintings were exhibited not only in Poland but also in Paris, Moscow, Leningrad, Munich, Geneva and Bucharest. Address: 400 West 118th Street, New York, N. Y.
From: "Who's Who in Polish America" by Rev. Francis Bolek, Editor-in-Chief; Harbinger House, New York, 1943