How One Becomes a Professional Butter Sculpture Artist

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How One Becomes a Professional Butter Sculpture Artist
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How One Becomes a Professional Butter Sculpture Artist (ABC News)

Every artist needs a medium, and Sarah Pratt’s happens to be butter. With nearly 25 years of butter sculpting experience on her resume, Pratt is the official Iowa State Fair butter sculptress, in charge of the famous annual butter cow and its companion piece.

Pratt got her start in the niche field as a child, learning directly from Norma 'Duffy' Lyon, who was the Iowa State Fair’s butter sculptress for 45 years before Pratt took over in 2006.

"I love being a part of the tradition. Having been trained by the famous Norma "Duffy" Lyon, I feel like that’s such an honor for her to entrust that to me and to be able to continue the tradition," Pratt told ABC News.

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The Iowa State Fair's 2012 companion butter sculpture of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

The Iowa State Fair's 2012 companion butter sculpture of Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.

Though using butter has a comic aspect to it, Pratt really approaches the craft like an artist, considering salted versus unsalted butter, the temperature she carves at and even the best breed to recreate.

“I think the easiest thing for people to relate to is sculpting out of clay,” Pratt explained. “Clay you can sculpt anywhere at any temperature and it won’t change, but I have a cooler at 55 degrees that keeps it more at a clay-like state, and then I can freeze it in the 42 degree cooler.”

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The Iowa State Fair's 2012 butter cow.

The Iowa State Fair's 2012 butter cow.

She starts with a steel, wood and wire armature of a cow that Lyon created 20 years go and then adds around 450 pounds of recycled, salted butter and starts carving.

“It’s just regular butter that you eat, but I recycle every year, so at this point it’s nine years old and they freeze it every year,” she explained. “Norma preferred hers unsalted because she said the salt attracted moisture and could cause the sculpture to almost create water droplets on it. But the people I’m working with would rather it be salted because it acts as a preservative, and I don’t see much of a difference.”

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The Iowa State Fair's 2007 companion butter sculpture of Harry Potter.

The Iowa State Fair's 2007 companion butter sculpture of Harry Potter.

Having nine-year-old butter can get a little smelly, Pratt admitted, but getting 600 pounds of fresh butter every year would be too expensive, and Pratt tunes out the smell.

"We try to have music on or visit with the other people, but it’s really hard because the fans are so loud, so it tends to be really introspective," Pratt said. "As a mom it’s really hard to have those moments where you can just have your own thoughts, so it’s nice to have those quiet times."

Platt uses a lot of that time toward planning the cow's rotating companion piece, which in years past have included Harry Potter, Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and more.

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The Iowa State Fair's 2010 butter cow.

The Iowa State Fair's 2010 butter cow.

“We have a running list of ideas,” Pratt said. “It just varies year to year.”

2014’s is in honor of “A Field of Dreams’” 25th anniversary, which was set in Iowa.

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The Iowa State Fair's 2014 companion butter sculpture of a character in Field of Dreams.

The Iowa State Fair's 2014 companion butter sculpture of a character in Field of Dreams.

This year is also extra-special for Pratt because she’s teaching the craft to her two 10-year-old daughters.

“It’s a cool thing this year to bring them in,” she said. “It’s fun to be able to pass it on.”

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