Strange Planet: Butter Art in Iowa
By: Ashley Thompson
Well folks, we’re now into the month of August, and the long-awaited Beijing Olympics are upon us. But don’t let the hoopla of the opening ceremonies overshadow another great tradition, the Iowa Fair, which runs August 7-17. And while sports such as swimming and track take center stage at the Olympics, the Iowa State Fair sports a popular attraction all its own: butter sculpting.
The famous “Butter Cow” (pictured) has been an icon of the Iowa Fair since 1911. These days, there’s a freshly carved cow each year, along with original sculptures of international and regional icons (read: Tiger Woods, Elvis Presley, and Harry Potter). The figures were all sculpted from 1960 to 2005 by the buttery hands of Norma Lyon, better known hereabouts as the “Butter Cow Lady.” The star of her sport has since passed the tradition down to her apprentice Sarah Pratt, who became the fair’s fourth official butter sculptor.
Butter sculptures (even butter cows!) have spread to other state fairs in past decades (the REAL “Butter Cow Lady” has even been known to cross state lines to create butter udders for them), but this tradition can hardly claim its roots in the Midwest. Butter sculpting originated in Tibet (hey, a quasi-Olympic connection), where Tibetan monks used yak butter to create animals and deities for worship.
And in another Olympic connection, this year’s butter sculpture specialty will be of Olympic gymnastics team member Shawn Johnson from Des Moines, who may be able to churn butter into gold.
Photo: The Iowa State Fair
- Nat Geo Expeditions