Friday, August 4, 2006

State Fairs and Butter-Cows

The Ohio State Fair and its famous 'Butter Cow' bring a needed moment of faith and clarity back to what this country stsnds for.

Occasionally I search my heart for what it is that makes my country, our country, able to stumble through the worst of times and come out right-side up. Then something slides into my consciousness from the front page of the Ames (Iowa) Tribune and my ‘oh, that’s how we’ll get through this together’ moment occurs.
Iowastatefairbuttercow Thus it was today that the story behind Norma Lyon’s ‘Butter Cow’ made me just a little more confident of how we’re doing as a nation. Norma’s nickname is Duffy, and she’s been sculpting a life-sized cow out of butter, each and every year, for the Iowa State Fair at Iowa City.
My mother was a Norma, as was Marilyn Monroe. Normas are heartlanders.
Something new is always coming up. Well, this isn’t exactly new. Duffy’s been wielding the palette knife to this edible emulsion pile of fat globules (butter) for 45 years now, pretty much buttering up the exhibit selection committee. Hers is the most popular exhibit at the fair.
Whether or not Duffy’s is a transferable artistic skill will be proven this year, as apprentice Sarah Doyle-Pratt and granddaughter Erin take over the honors. At last year's Fair, Norma Lyons laid down the sculpting knife.
IowastatefairbarbecueWhat I find so appealingly American is the building of a tradition around and consisting of, five to six hundred pounds of butter, molded, shaped and detailed in the form of a cow. What could be more iconic for a State Fair (or a nation) than that?
State Fairs themselves are as uniquely American as 4th of July parades. They’re celebrations of continuity and examples of a nation in love with its history and roots. Perhaps even in love with itself, although that’s a tad narcissistic. But there is narcism in the idea of America and what, after all, is a nation but the idea of itself?
In 1960,
  • John F. Kennedy was elected president in a close race with Richard Nixon
  • The Soviets shot down an American U-2 reconnaissance airplane and captured Gary Powers
  • Black students stage a sit-in (the first of many to come) at a lunch counter in Greensboro, NC
  • The Belgian Congo became independent
  • Sputnik 5 launched two dogs into orbit and returned them safely to earth
  • Pittsburgh won the World Series over the New York Yankees, 4 games to 3
  • Psycho, The Entertainer, The Apartment all hit the movie theaters
  • Perry Mason, Bonanza, The Untouchables and the Andy Griffith Show were the big hits on TV
  • Clark Gable died
And Duffy Lyon sculpted her first Butter Cow for the Iowa State Fair.
Forty-five years later, the only survivor of all that turmoil is Duffy who, along with Fidel Castro, continues from that long-ago year to entertain the American public.
We pride ourselves on being a nation of individuals and it’s the Norma (Duffy) Lyons’ who keep us sane, get us back on track and then hand off their talents to another generation.
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Other points of view on State Fairs;