Pratt pays tribute to history and to mentor, Lyon, in butter sculpture

DES MOINES — Holding back tears, Sarah Pratt movingly described the companion piece to this year’s Iowa Butter Cow during opening ceremonies at the Iowa State Fair last week.

The opening event was a birthday party for the 100th anniversary of the Butter Cow complete with speeches, hats, cake, ice cream — provided by Midwest Dairy Association — and a children’s chorus singing happy birthday.

Along with a Jersey Butter Cow, Pratt sculpted a replica of the original 1911 cow and calf on display with a young boy and chicken. The rotating sculpture also includes a beautiful young girl and butterfly as a tribute to long-time sculptor Norma "Duffy" Lyon and her curious spirit. Lyon died in June at 81.

"Norma’s daughter Valaria shared this story with me," Pratt said. "Joe Lyon met Norma at Iowa State University and decided it was time to bring her to Toledo to meet his family. They walked down Main Street on a Saturday evening and paused to watch a television in a store window. Suddenly Joe noticed Norma was gone. He found her flitting about. Exasperated, he asked what she was doing."

Norma told Joe she was chasing a butterfly she needed for her collection. An argument ensued as to whether that was the proper thing to be doing, but Norma won the argument, Pratt said.


"A few weeks later for Norma’s birthday, Joe hunted down a paper butterfly," Pratt said. "He wrote, ‘For your collection, love, Joe.’ Valaria found that card recently. Joe had no idea Norma had saved it all those years."

Pratt said she added that element to the 1911 sculpture not only to honor Lyon’s memory and what she did for her, but to remind everyone that a curious spirit is what the Iowa State Fair is all about.

"I hope you find a memory today to add to your collection," Pratt said.

In an interview near her sculpture in the agriculture building, Pratt said she did take a little license by sculpting a younger Norma to match the age of the boy in the original sculpture. She used a photo provided by Lyon’s grandson, Todd, who works with Pratt each year on the butter sculpture. The photo was Duffy at 12 in her Girl Scout uniform.

"Duffy’s goal was to sculpt a grand champion cow, the best of the best," Pratt said. "In 1911, the artist’s goal was a depiction of farm life. You see a young boy teaching a calf to nurse. The cows were smaller and more common."

Pratt said that in sculpting the young girl with the butterfly and the boy with the calf, she reflected on Joe and Norma and the 61 years of marriage on their Toledo dairy farm.

If Lyon could see her work, she would likely critique the cow, Pratt said.

"She’d say nice udder, but next year lets work on those ribs," Pratt said with a smile. "I say that because in my head, I think I need to work on the ribs, but Duffy would also give me a hug and say, ‘Good job.’ "


Pratt said she’s grateful for Midwest Dairy Association and AMPI’s support of the butter cow.

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Butter Cow, 60 concrete cows were decorated by Iowans throughout the fairgrounds, said Gary Slater, Iowa State Fair CEO. In addition there is a daily Battle of Butter sculpting contest, and fair visitors can enjoy fried butter on a stick, which has been described as tasting like very buttery cinnamon rolls.

"Our most famous cow is right inside the agriculture building," Slater said. "Sarah worked diligently on this year’s cow, and she did a wonderful job."

The Iowa State Fair has had five butter sculptors during the Butter Cow’s 100-year history: J.K. Daniels, J.E. Wallace, Earl Frank Dutt, Lyon, who sculpted the butter cow from 1960 through 2005, and Pratt who has sculpted the butter cow since 2006.

"We are saddened that Duffy passed on the end of June, but she’s here in spirit," Slater said.

There is a tribute to Lyon’s legacy at the agriculture building’s northwest rotunda entrance.

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