DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) — Life-size butter sculptures of everything from cows to space heroes and Hollywood stars are among the most beloved traditions of state fairs, drawing thousands of admirers each year from Iowa to Ohio and as far south as Texas.
In Iowa, where the tradition started, the fair will celebrate the 100th year of its butter cow when it begins Thursday. While other state fairs may mimic the butter cow or tout other creamy creations, none has gained as much fame as the original, Iowa State Fair President Gary Slater said.
"None of the others have become that one thing that when you think of the fair, you think of it like you do here at the Iowa State Fair," Slater said. "It's become our icon."
Other states with butter cows include Illinois, Kansas, New York and Utah, while the Wisconsin and Indiana state fairs feature mammoth cheese carvings.
But Minnesota may come the closest to Iowa in celebration of its dairy sculptures. The state's dairy queen — Princess Kay of the Milky Way — and her court are immortalized in butter busts. Other state sculptures have included Darth Vadar and, in his home state of Illinois, former President Abraham Lincoln.
But it's Iowa where the rich history was born, confirmed Gary Welling, head of the pastry program at Johnson & Wales University in Providence, R.I.
There, sculptor Sarah Pratt works in a cooler where the air lingers in the low 40s, applying 600 pounds of butter over a metal, wood and wire frame to create a slick and fatty cow that's 5 ½- feet tall and about 8-feet long.
The 34-year-old elementary school teacher took over the job in 2006 from the late Norma "Duffy" Lyon, who was Iowa's "Butter Cow Lady" for 46 years. The butter in the cow may have been around longer than Pratt: It can be reused for up to 10 years.
Pratt, who apprenticed with Lyon for 15 years, said she strives to achieve the same level of success in both her sculpting and promotion of the butter cow.
"I try to hone my skills more and more each year," said Pratt, who lives in West Des Moines. "She was very good and strived to make the perfect cow. That is what I strive to do and honor what she did."
Along with the cow, Lyon's butter works for the fair included Grant Wood's famous painting "American Gothic," Leonardo d Vinci's The Last Supper, John Wayne and Elvis Presley. She died earlier this year.
"To be able to carry on this tradition, it's a huge honor," Pratt said.
Minnesota's reigning dairy queen, Katie Miron, 20, said she's honored to be the subject of a butter sculpture.