An icon at the Illinois State Fair will celebrate her 90th birthday this year. Since 1922, the butter cow has graced the Dairy Building at the fair in Springfield. The unusual work of art draws in fair-goers to see her likeness sculpted in more than 600 pounds of butter. She’s come a long way since her first fair in the center cooler case of the Dairy Products Building, when visitors could only see half of the cow.

Over the years, a variety of display changes eventually led to today’s revolving circular display where viewers can see the full 360-degree shape of the artist’s creation.

In 2012, a webcam located inside the case will provide a new, close-up perspective, delivering a feed that can be seen at the viewing area in the Expo Building or online.

As part of the butter cow’s 90th birthday celebration, fair visitors are encouraged to bring in a homemade card, including a picture of or story about the butter cow, to be entered for a “got milk?“ dairy prize. A drop-off location inside the Dairy Building can be used to submit entries.

Whereas previous fairs opened with the finished sculpture already in place, in 2011 fair visitors could watch the final touches being put on the butter cow sculpture on the first few days of the fair. That opportunity continues this year.


Sharon BuMann of rural New York is back to sculpt the cow, as she has done since 2004. BuMann has been carving butter for 16 years, having gotten her start when the New York State Fair was looking for a new butter sculptor. Her website explains, “I sent in my credentials, created a small sample piece and the rest is history.”

Each year, the Butter Cow’s design remains a tightly-kept secret. Nevertheless; it will complement the 2012 fair’s theme “Family Fun for Everyone.”

Some highlights from past years’ butter cow displays include:

2007 – A wise owl sat in a tree representing the “Celebrate and Educate” theme
2008 – A family of skunks made an appearance for “A Family Tradition” theme
2009 – A young Abe Lincoln was included for the “An All-American Fair” theme
2010 – A cow stood in a corn field to highlight the “Cream of the Crop” theme
2011 – Illinois state symbols surrounded the cow for the “We’ve Got a Good Thing Growing” theme

Attractions at the Dairy Building are sponsored by Midwest Dairy Association on behalf of the dairy farmers of Illinois.

The fair runs Aug. 9-19. The Dairy Building is open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. to view the butter cow and other displays and to get a tasty dairy treat. Kids’ games end at 6 p.m. PD

—From Midwest Dairy Association news release

Photo courtesy of Midwest Dairy Association.