On Sunday, June 26 Norma "Duffy" Lyon passed away in Marshalltown, IA. If the name doesn't ring a cow bell to you, perhaps you have heard of the "Butter-Cow Lady" of the Iowa State Fair. Ms. Lyon studied animal science at Iowa State University in the late 1940s. Her artistic talent was discovered by an artist-in-residence there after he saw an ice sculpture that she had made for the university's winter festival. In 1960, she became the official sculptor of the life-sized Butter Cow, the dairy industry's symbol at the Iowa State Fair since 1911. Ms. Lyon also made sculptures of celebrities, comic-strip characters, and themes from well-known works of art. Her most ambitious sculpture was a recreation of "The Last Supper," made in 1999.
Although we never had the privilege of having her at our own country fair midway (if you've never been here before, yes, we do have our very own scaled-down version of a midway - smack dab in the center of the museum - as part of our "Country Fair to Culinary Olympics" exhibit), she certainly was a presence known at many fairs across the country. She was such a well-known and influential force in Iowa that Barack Obama asked for her endorsement during his election campaign there in 2007. Ms. Lyon appeared on several television shows, including "Today," "The Tonight Show," and on "Late Night With David Letterman." She retired from butter sculpting at the Iowa State Fair in 2006.
In butter-related news, the Iowa state fair kicked off this week. And, of course, Duffy was mentioned in this New York Times article about the 100 year legacy of the state fair. Chef Gary Welling of Johnson & Wales also weighed in on the history of the dairy sculpture. Here's to all the deep-fried food on a stick that you can eat!