Every year, the Pennsylvania Farm Show kicks off with an unveiling of a work of an unusual piece of art – a sculpture made from more than 1,000 pounds of butter.
So begins the State Fair season, which spreads across the United States and brings with it its own buttery set of sculptures, including everything from butter cows, pastoral scenes, sports mascots and more. Former US President Barak Obama was also given the buttery treatment when on the campaign trail by one local fan.
Art historian and all round “butter sculpture expert”, Pamela Simpson says that the practice of displaying butter sculptures has been an important celebration of the American Midwest since the late 1800s.
While it may appear to be a curious practice, using butter and other food products to create artwork dates back centuries. Butter sculptures were often found on tables during the Renaissance era, while the Buddhist practice of creating mandalas out of tinted yak butter dates back to the fifteenth century.
Meanwhile the artist Caroline Brooks created a name for herself using butter as a material, after having successfully sculpted the literary character Iolanthe in Cincinnati in 1876.
While some artists may favour using butter over clay, it does not come without its challenges, namely that it has to be kept cold. In 1878, Brooks missed travelling to an International Exhibition in Paris, as she was unable to find a ship with enough ice to carry her sculptures in time.