Tuesday, June 15, 2010

History of the Butter Sculpture

Butter Sculpture

Did you know the first recorded butter sculpture in North America occurred at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition? Sculpting in butter is actually an ancient Tibetan Buddhist tradition for celebrating the Tibetan New Year and offering tributes to Buddha. Artisans would use yak butter and goat butter to sculpt objects or tell a story. The sculptures were then dyed with minerals to add color.
In other food history, butter sculpture was found
throughout Europe on the tables of the wealthy for hundreds of years.

In 1876, Caroline Shawk Brooks created the first butter sculpture in North America and it was exhibited in the Women’s Pavilion. It was a bas-relief portrait of Iolanthe, a character from a popular 19th century play King RenĂ©’s Daughter by Danish playwright Henrik Hertz. The display of the sculpture was so popular that fair organizers invited her to demonstrate her artistry and technique in the Main Exhibition Building. Ms. Brooks went on to study art in France and Italy and created a variety of marble sculptures AND continued to sculpt in butter.

Since the 1876 Centennial sculptures in butter have become a staple of agricultural fairs and state fairs across the country. Butter sculptures at State Fairs typically are dairy related in subject matter, such as cows. Over the years, sculptors have introduced different subject matter. One butter artist, Norma “Duffy” Lyon began sculpting in 1959 until her retirement in 2006. Over her career, she created sculptures of John Wayne, Elvis Presley, country music artist Garth Brooks, her own design of “The Last Supper," and many more.

Image of 1876 butter sculpture. (Courtesy, Robby Cohen Collection)
On the reverse is written,
The Dreaming Iolanthe, A Study in Butter, by Caroline S. Brooks, Daughter of Abel Shawk. The tools used, were a common Butter Paddle, Cedar Sticks, Broom Straws, and a Camels Hair Pencil. Sculptured on a Kitchen Table without a Model, in a Milk Pan 15 inches in diameter, and brought from Helena Ark., a distance of 2000 miles to the Centennial.

You can read more about the ancient butter sculpture tradition by clicking here.

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