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For Pratt, Butter Cow celebration will be in memory of Lyon

DES MOINES - The celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the Iowa State Fair Butter Cow is bittersweet for Sarah Pratt.

For Pratt, Butter Cow celebration will be in memory of Lyon
Sarah Pratt has been sculpting the Butter Cow at the Iowa State Fair for six years. This year the Iowa State Fair is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Butter Cow.

DES MOINES - The celebration marking the 100th anniversary of the Iowa State Fair Butter Cow is bittersweet for Sarah Pratt.

This is Pratt's sixth year sculpting the butter cow, and she had hoped to share the celebration with her mentor, Norma "Duffy" Lyon. She apprenticed with Lyon for 15 years before sculpting on her own.

Lyon, who sculpted the Butter Cow for 45 years, died in June.

"We were going to be co-grand marshals of the State Fair Parade, and if her health allowed, she was going to make some appearances with me," Pratt said. "I had looked forward to sharing it with her. Now I'll do it in her memory."

In honor of Lyon, a car with a display of yellow roses will join the parade.

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Pratt, 34, first worked with Lyon when she was 14. She was friends with Lyon's great niece Kari Lyon Kellen, who invited her to the fair where she was showing dairy cattle.

"While Kari was showing cattle, I got sent to help Norma with the Butter Cow," Pratt said. "I would soften butter, clean buckets and tools. The next year Norma asked me to help again. As the years went by, she trained me more and more."

Pratt said Lyon brought out her talent.

"When I was graduating from high school and in college, Duffy used to tell reporters that I was going to take over for her, and I'd say, 'I can't do it,' " Pratt said. "When Duffy had her first stroke in the 1990s, she told the Des Moines Register she was retiring and that I was taking over the next year. I started panicking. She rebounded and was able to continue for eight more years. Her official retirement was spring 2006. By then I had a family and was living in Des Moines, and she kept reminding me, 'You can do this.' She coached me through it. It was amazing to have someone of her talent have that much confidence in me. It was life changing."

Pratt is a special education teacher in West Des Moines. She and her husband, Andy, have twin seven-year-old daughters, Hannah and Grace.

It takes Pratt four to six days to sculpt the better cow. She sets aside three weeks to do the entire butter exhibit.

The theme of the annual butter exhibit is usually announced before the fair, vut this year it 's top secret and will be unveiled Aug. 11.

"It's hard to keep it secret," Pratt said.

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This year's cow is a Jersey.

"I didn't give that a second thought," she said. "That's what Norma and her husband, Joe, had. It's my most familiar and favorite dairy breed."

Lyon's grandson, Todd, works with Pratt. Pratt's husband, Andy, is "the power tool guy." Her brother, John Doyle, a mechanical engineer, helps with the design and construction of the armature. Many friends and family assist. Hannah and Grace mop, soften butter and sometimes put butter on the sculpture.

"They are very interested in art and really enjoy being involved," Pratt said.

Lyon, Pratt said, was a talented and accomplished sculptor. She also painted and sketched.

"She wanted the Butter Cow to look like a grand champion dairy cow," Pratt said. "She knew what a champion looked like from years of raising dairy cattle on her farm. She majored in animal science at Iowa State University, and she knew the dairy cow from an artistic and scientific standpoint."

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