Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Duffy's done her last butter cow

Norma "Duffy" Lyon has held up the long tradition at American agricultural fairs of creating a cow out of butter for display. Unfortunately, after more than 40 years as sculptor-in-charge, Duffy will miss the celebration this summer of the 100th anniversary of the butter cow sculpture at the Iowa State Fair. She had been named Grand Marshall of this year's parade, but died on Sunday of a stroke at the age of 81.

She is pictured above with the 2nd butter cow she crafted after taking over from previous sculptor Frank Dutt in 1960 (1st image), and with the cow she sculpted for the fair in 2003 (2nd image). Not to worry - she had an apprentice. "She always had so much confidence in me. She always had something new to teach me, whether we were talking about sculpting, about life or about cows. I'll miss that opportunity to learn from her," said Sarah Pratt, now 34, who began assisting Duffy when she was only 13. Pratt has taken over as only the 4th butter cow sculptor in the Iowa State Fair's history. Pratt is committed to the task and said in 2006, “I think the legs are the most difficult. I had to go back to the farm several times with my camera and my sketch-pad before I got them right.”

The butter cow is made by applying 600lbs of pure cream Iowa butter to a wood, metal, wire, and steel mesh frame. The 8'-long cow is created and maintained in a 40-degree cooler. The unsalted butter - enough to spread on 19,200 slices of toast - does not go to waste, and is recycled and reused. Duffy was well-suited to the task of butter cow-building. She had a degree in animal science and, with her husband Joe, owned a dairy farm. She also had a herd of 9 children. One of her proud children, 55-year-old Michelle Juhl, remembered, "You know, not everybody's mom is the butter cow lady."

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