dairy queen

Now Who Will Sculpt Me in Butter?

Photo: Lorie Shaull

Imagine this: You’re the daughter of a Minnesotan dairy farmer. You enter the state’s dairy pageant, a three-phase competition to select a goodwill ambassador for all of Minnesota’s dairy farmers. If you are crowned dairy princess, your title will be Princess Kay of the Milky Way.

You make it past the first two rounds, entering the third round, a.k.a. the thrill of a lifetime: having your face memorialized in butter. Yes, all 12 pageant finalists get to sit in an enormous fridge and pose for Minnesota’s premier butter sculptor, who has been carving the faces of pageant hopefuls into 90-pound hunks of salted butter for almost 50 years. Sublime! The event, in which it takes six hours for each sculpture, happens live at the Minnesota State Fair, where attendees can watch it all go down. Also, once the sculpture is done, a little tiara is put on its head.

Sadly, I do not live in Minnesota, nor do I meet the requirements of dairy princesses, according to the handbook, which include “sufficient knowledge of dairy production.” Also, the supremely talented butter sculptor Linda Christensen has suddenly decided to retire after 50 years of good, honest dairy molding, crushing my dreams of seeing my own visage as a butter sculpture.

Christensen, who has completed more than 500 butter princess heads with her kitchen knife, “Old Faithful,” is passing the torch to an art teacher, Gerry Kulzer, who honestly seems a little underprepared. “I realize how difficult it is to produce a likeness in a cold, spinning butter booth,” he told the Washington Post. “I don’t know how Linda has been able to do it for 50 years.” Neither do I, but I hope Gerry learns in time for my visit!

Butter sculpture as a genre is not uncommon; many state fairs present life-size butter cows, and this year’s New York State Fair featured an entire diorama of children going back to school, all chiseled from 800 pounds of dairy spread. But human likeness is apparently quite unique, especially doing it live. Christensen told the Post she doesn’t know any other artists who perform the same annual duties.

Right now, Christensen’s last set of butter busts are being taken home by the pageant finalists, who get to do whatever they please with these masterpieces. One queen has apparently melted it down to seven quarts of liquid dairy to serve with corn on the cob for her whole town, while others have used their likenesses as a condiment for townwide pancake breakfasts. At least one possessor of a butter bust keeps it frozen next to her pork chops.

Meanwhile, Christensen will head into retirement, where I hope an endless supply of quality Minnesotan butter awaits her.

Now Who Will Sculpt Me in Butter?