The Minnesota State Fair has reigned as queen of the butter sculptures since 1965, when it first tasked an artist with carving butter busts of the just-crowned Princess Kay of the Milky Way and 11 finalists.
This year, the Ohio State Fair, which opened on Wednesday, upped its dairy cred by displaying life-size, full-body butter sculptures of hometown hero Neil Armstrong and his fellow astronauts to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the moon landing.
A “moooo-n” landing might be more accurate: The astronauts are being curiously eyed by a life-size cow and her calf carved from the same material — the buttery bovine duo has been a mainstay of the Ohio fair since 1903. The Ohio State Fair’s long tradition of displaying butter sculptures has included subjects ranging from a Tonka Truck and Liberty Bell to Darth Vader, Mr. Monopoly and Dave Thomas, founder of Wendy’s.
Minnesota’s butter sculptures aren’t perhaps as special as we like to think. Several other state fairs have longstanding dairy traditions: Iowa has been displaying butter cows since 1911 (2011’s cow was famously vandalized by an animal liberation group) and has replicated John Deere tractors, John Wayne, Elvis Presley and Grant Wood’s iconic “American Gothic,” among other subjects. For this August’s fair, it’s preparing a “Sesame Street” vignette to commemorate the beloved children’s show’s 50th anniversary.
But our butter heads are still the “coolest” — the blanket-wrapped models have been having their likenesses carved on-site by sculptor Linda Christensen for nearly 50 years. And while many other fairs use expired butter, which isn’t fit for consumption, the princesses get to take their 90-pound heads home to share with their constituents via corn feeds or pancake breakfasts. Or keep them in their parents’ freezers ad infinitum.
Rachel Hutton • 612-673-4569