Women’s work and food sculpture
I enjoyed this history immensely, Lyz. Well done. On a related note, last night, I watched this excellent PBS documentary on the Iowa state fair:
BUTTER COW SPOILER ALERT - Read No Further if you intend to watch the documentary and want to be surprised!
I was gobsmacked to learn that our state fair butter cow was sculpted by the same woman for FORTY-SIX years! Talk about talent and dedication. Her assistant (also a woman) then took over and has sculpted the cow for nearly twenty years now. WOW. Perhaps the most mind-boggling fact of all: They are actually credited for their work on signs that hang in the exhibition hall above the butter cow. Let's celebrate Iowa doing something right.
Maybe it’s the two cups of coffee, or maybe Women Do Butter Sculpture is a wickedly stirring topic. For centuries our artistic abilities were constricted to only what was practical. Check out your grandma’s collection of doilies and tablecloths: crochet, embroidery, or tatting. Or knitted scarves and hats and socks. If we wrote, (few women EVER had time for that) it probably didn’t get published unless we were in the upperclass. And! We didn’t have our own means so we certainly couldn’t buy art supplies. We had to use what we had and express a ourselves as we would. Butter sculpture fits that niche.
**Also, Tibetan monks have been butter sculpturing since the Ming dynasty. But, for them it was a sacred practice.**
"... the creation of dairy products was so much the realm of women that butter money was often the only money a woman could truly call her own." On a similar note, my college-degreed grandmother was "allowed" to put her four daughters through college with her "egg money." In the 1940s and early 1950s.
So fun to read - thank you. I clicked through to your casserole article too (also excellent) and I have to know, how did your sisters fare after their accident? I have sisters too and can only imagine the horror of that experience.
There is a movie called Butter, 2011. It is based on the Iowa state fair butter carver competition.
It was really funny and has a bunch of great actors. The main one is Jennifer Garner. I recommend it.
It reminds me of my Grandmother Zelda, who was responsible for cooking, cleaning, farming and raising children. When I was small, she allowed me to explore her flower garden, which ran along the driveway at the farm in a long, narrow strip. (Brilliant, actually, less weed and each flower was in kind of a square. A square of Gladiolas followed by a square of daisies, peonies, on and on.)
She told me how much joy she got working with her flowers. The Lutheran Church at Lost Island Lake would call Grandma Zelda whenever they needed flowers for a funeral, a wedding, a baptism. It was one of her only creative outlets, making those floral arrangements and delivering them to her tiny church. All for love and beauty, no payment involved.
Excellent article, Lyz. MTG looks like she's telling the crowd it's actually a Parkay cow.
I am so here for the scoop on butter cow. Thank you, Lyz!
I’ve been waiting my whole life for this post!!!
This post is making me hungry for pancakes.
I have pre-ordered through my local bookstore.
I grew up in Ohio. I have never heard of "butter sculptures." It is funny how you mention Iowa and Ohio in this column - I know people here in California who confuse the two states (with Idaho sometimes in the mix). I have never been to, and probably will never visit Idaho nor Iowa. That said, I just started reading your book "Belabored." As a father who saw both children being born, and as a one-time nursing student, you describe things very accurately. It should be required reading for all straight cis-gender men. PS: If you are a man reading "Belabored" while eating and you nearly get sick - good! Sorry to be so harsh, but it is about time society realizes what pregnancy and childbirth does to a pregnant person's body!!!
I've never seen a butter cow and I have questions. Is the exhibit hall refrigerated? Do they mix stuff with the butter to keep it from melting? Do they carve it with chainsaws? What happens to the butter afterward?
How could you omit Minnesota's Princess Kay butter sculptures? And the sculptor who carved them for 50 years? https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2021/09/10/butter-sculpture-dairy-minnesota-fair/
Butter sculpture question for non-Minnesotans: Do you get to watch them being sculpted? Part of the fun of the Princess Kay extended universe is getting to watch them being carved, while the poor princess sits in the refrigerated chamber wearing a winter coat during the process. Apparently the princesses get to keep their butter heads, as impractical as that sounds.