Inside the State Fair: Churning Out Princess Kay Butter Sculptures

KSTP/Andrew Heiser Photo: Sculptor Linda Christensen and Princess Kay finalist Ashley Warren
KSTP/Andrew Heiser

September 01, 2017 04:45 PM

For those who dream of finding the fame (and tiaras) that come with pageant victories, that dream is not typically accompanied by full-scale replicas of their face in butter. 

But for the finalists of a Dairy Princess Contest, there may not be a more appropriate medium in which to carve the contestants' legacies. 


Each day throughout the Minnesota State Fair's 12-day run, one finalist from Minnesota's competition has her likeness carved into a 90-pound block of Grade A butter while fairgoers watch and take pictures. 

Ashley Warren, a finalist for this year's Princess Kay of the Milky Way, sat inside a rotating booth in the Dairy Building while the giant butter block slowly took on her features. Warren, a student in the University of Minnesota's College of Food, Agriculture and Natural Resource Sciences, wore a thick coat, gloves and boots to keep warm in the 40 degree booth. That temperature keeps the butter from melting. 

Each finalist gets to take her sculpture home and decide how to use it. 

On the opposite side of the block stood Linda Christensen, who has been creating the sculptures at the fair for 46 years, more than twice as long as Warren has been alive. 

Christensen has sculpted more than 500 blocks of butter in that time, including likenesses of David Letterman, former Minnesota First Lady Mary Pawlenty and Big Bird.

Each sculpture takes about six hours to complete, and the butter blocks are produced specially for the fair by Associated Milk Producers, Inc. in New Ulm. A 90-pound block takes about 225 gallons (or almost 1 ton) of milk to produce.

Princess Kay of the Milky Way Emily Annexstad, 19, from St. Peter, was crowned on Aug. 23 before the fair began, and her sculpture sits in the rotating case along with the completed others, as well as uncut blocks that will soon have their own faces. 

Butter sculpting has a history at the State Fair that goes back further than the almost 60-year tradition of Princess Kay. In fact, women on the frontier began molding and imprinting butter as an art form in the 1800s. 

The fair featured several types of butter sculptures from 1898 through 1927, and the American Dairy Association of Minnesota began sculpting princess likenesses in 1965. 

The Midwest Dairy Association, which sponsors the Princess Kay competition, now helps to sponsor butter sculpting at state fairs in 10 states, but only Minnesota's fair sculpts in front of fairgoers using a live model. 

You can find the sculpting booth at the Dairy Building on Underwood Street at the fair.  


Andrew Heiser

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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