Creative Genius: Butter Sculptor Linda Christensen at the Minnesota State Fair

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linda christensen sculpts butter at the minnesota state fair

Linda sculpts inside a refrigerated booth while fair-goers watch. Photo courtesy of the Midwest Dairy Association.

It’s state fair season, and you know what that means: amazing state fair food, crazy state fair competitions, and … butter sculpting! “What?” you ask. Yes, butter sculpting. It’s been a part of the Minnesota State Fair, which is consistently named one of the best state fairs in the country, for more than 40 years.

The butter-sculpting booth (sponsored by the Midwest Dairy Association) is a perennial fan favorite at the Minnesota State Fair. It’s the only live-sculpting booth of its kind, and Creative Genius Linda Christensen is at the center of it all. For 42 years, she’s live-sculpted each Princess Kay of the Milky Way (a competition currently celebrating 60 years running) contestant in front of a growing crowd.

So, how does one become a butter sculptor?

As a sculpture student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design in the early 1970’s, Linda was known for creating larger-than-life female figures. That talent caught the eyes of her professors and officials at the Minnesota State Fair, who were looking for an artist to realize their vision of live butter sculpting during the fair. Linda was game for trying, and a tradition was born.

linda christensen sculpting butter in 1972

Linda Christensen sculpted butter for the first time at the 1972 Minnesota State Fair as a recent art school graduate. Photo courtesy of the Midwest Dairy Association.

Butter sculpting didn’t exactly start with Linda, though she’s definitely made it famous. The idea really came from American frontier wives who would press handmade molds into butter simply to make it more decorative.

After more than 40 years, you’d think Linda would have sworn off butter by now. But she claims to still love the stuff. “I forget that it’s butter,” she says. “It’s just like working with a medium.”

Linda works in a cooler set to 38-40 degrees, and she and the princesses all wear snowsuits during the process. (The 12 princesses each year come from dairy-farming families, and many of the women are studying agriculture-related disciplines in college.) Linda uses everything from kitchen tools to piano wire to craft and shape each woman’s face into the 90-pound blocks of specially made butter.

butter sculpting at minnesota state fair in 2009

Linda sculpts a Princess Kay of the Milky Way inside the 38-degree booth at the 2009 Minnesota State Fair. Photo courtesy of the Midwest Dairy Association.

Some princesses have frozen their butter likenesses and kept them for years, even displaying them at their weddings. One recent princess melted her sculpture down and served it to community members along with corn on the cob. Talk about buttering up the neighbors.

Born and bred (and buttered—I couldn’t help it) in Minnesota, Linda now lives most of the year in Oceanside, California, where she trades her down jacket and butter knife for seashells and succulents, selling her planted creations at local craft fairs and farmers markets. “Succulents are very sculptural,” Linda says. “Maybe that’s why I like them.”

Linda plans on keeping up the tradition at the Minnesota State Fair as long as she can, or until a new sculptor takes over. (She has no successor waiting in the wings yet.) For Linda, it’s about celebrating a place and a culture that’s as unique as her butter-based art form. “A lot of people have nostalgia for family farms and treasure those farming communities,” Linda says. “That’s what this is really about.”

butter princess at minnesota state fair

Linda poses with Princess Kay Mary Zahurones and her buttery likeness in 2011. Photo courtesy of the Midwest Dairy Association.

If Linda’s story has made you hungry, why not learn how to make your own butter? We can’t claim it’ll be sculpture-grade, but it’ll taste great on your bagel or biscuit.

The Creative Genius series on Made + Remade features fabulous DIYers and makers who inspire us. Meet more Creative Geniuses and help us share the spirit of DIY!

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About Kelly Smith Trimble 

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I grow vegetables wherever I can find enough sunlight and forage roadsides and hiking trails for plants that can be used to make natural dyes. You can find both vintage ...

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