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Spreading the joy: A look at this year’s butter cow sculpture

  

The butter cow sculpture may have been absent from the State Fair when it pivoted to a smaller exhibition in 2020, but fairgoers will once again have the udder delight of visiting the iconic display this year. 

Butter sculptures are a prominent part of state fairs around the country, but Missouri’s yearly offering comes in the shape of a creatively molded cow: 2011’s sculpture depicted a cow posed like the famed sculpture The Thinker, while 2018’s celebrated the 20th birthday for the Gerken Dairy Center, where the sculpture is displayed and preserved in a freezer. 

Sponsor Midwest Dairy is presenting its 16th sculpture this year, continuing a longstanding tradition of celebrating the state’s agriculture industry through new and exciting art.  

“Every state fair has its own sculptures and traditions, and we love to bring that here as well,” said Stacy Dohle, Midwest Dairy’s head of farmer relations in Missouri. “We have a great space to put it on display every year, and we wanted to go off of the theme of the fair or whatever the artist came up with. We’ve had a lot of great sculptures over the years, from the Moona Lisa to a play on American Gothic, so it’s exciting to see what the artists come up with.”

This year’s sculpture, created by St. Louis artist Angela Weis, follows a “throwback to the early 1900s” theme and depicts a boy and a cow inspired by a photo from the 1910 State Fair. The photo adorned the cover of a book released to celebrate the 100th fair in 2001, making it the perfect celebration of agriculture for the state’s bicentennial

non-butter cow
A boy and his bull pose at the 1910 Missouri State Fair. The image was the basis for this year’s butter cow sculpture. (PROVIDED/ANGELA WEIS)

An artist and teacher with the St. Louis Artists’ Guild, Weis (who uses they/them/their pronouns) is no stranger to sculpting — but the butter cow is unlike anything they had taken on before. 

Weis was asked by the company last year if they knew any artists who might be interested in the project. Weis and the rest of the class submitted samples of their work and their resumes, and Weis was chosen as Midwest Dairy’s fourth butter cow sculptor.

“It really was a lot of luck, and I’m very grateful for it,” Weis told The Missouri Times. “There’s an idea in the back of the heads of people that love the fair that it would be really cool to do the butter cow sculpture, but that wasn’t necessarily a thought that I had. I wasn’t actively seeking the contract, but I’m so thankful for it.”

Weis spent months studying images of cows, seeking to accurately depict everything from muscles to hooves. From there, they designed a hollow frame to layer the butter over, finally bringing the foundation to Sedalia. The sculpture was a labor of love for Weis, who shaped the butter for around 14 hours a day for one week to have the piece completed in time for the fair. Doing their work in a freezer that was set at 35 degrees, Weis packed on layer after layer until 475 pounds of butter took the shape of a boy and his cow.

Angela Weis
Sculptor Angela Weis poses with the frame for their butter cow sculpture. (PROVIDED/ANGELA WEIS)

From concept to completion, the process took around 10 months. After the fair, the butter will be removed from the frame and stored to be used on next year’s sculpture — a task Weis is expected to undertake once again. 

Despite a plethora of challenges along the way — from the cold temperatures in their workspace to hours and hours of research — Weis was excited to see the sculpture come together and to have the opportunity to spread the joy of the butter cow this year. 

“This has been one of the great honors of my life,” Weis said. “There’s so much joy on people’s faces when I talk about it or when they’re telling me about past sculptures. It’s really heartwarming to see the amazement and hear the memories that the butter cow holds for so many people in the Midwest.”

The sculpture is on display throughout the fair from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the Gerken Dairy Center.