Step aside, foods on a stick. One of our lovable Minnesota State Fair traditions is even weirder than all the others.
It goes something like this…
Every year, young women from all over the state of Minnesota sit in a chilly refrigerator for hours on end, while hundreds of people watch them get their heads carved out of butter.
Either you’ve seen this phenomenon first hand while grabbing some of the fair’s best ice cream, or you’re reading this article wondering what part of the internet you just stumbled onto.
Either way, here’s everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the strange tradition of butter sculpting at the Minnesota State Fair.
- History of the Butter Sculptures
- The Butter Heads
- The Legendary Butter Sculptor
- Wait, a NEW sculptor?
- 8 More Fun Facts about the Butter Sculptures at the Minnesota State Fair
- 1. The booth is kept at 40 degrees.
- 2. Each butter sculpture takes 6-8 hours.
- 3. The sculptures are made out of a 90-pound block of butter.
- 4. Linda Christensen sculpted over 500 butter heads over 5 decades.
- 5. Oprah and Johnny Carson didn’t make the cut.
- 6. Some princesses have kept their heads frozen for decades
- 7. The original butter booth was replaced in 2008.
- 8. Minnesota claims to be the “Butter Capital of the Nation.”
- About Princess Kay of the Milky Way
- So, is the butter booth worth a visit at the Minnesota State Fair?
History of the Butter Sculptures
Legend has it that butter sculpting at the Minnesota State Fair goes back even farther than than those bright yellow butter block heads.
As early as the late 1800s, butter markers would create sculptures to draw crowds to their products.
Unfortunately, none of the DTC team was around to report on the fair 120 years ago, but we have to imagine these sculptures weren’t quite as involved as what happened in 1965. That year marked the first time the Princess Kay of the Milky way got her head duplicated out of a block of butter.
The Butter Heads
You can find these crazy butter heads inside the State Fair’s Dairy Building.
Inside, just look for the big glass booth. If you see an artist working with a bunch of massive butter blocks and a princess modeling with a crown over her head, you know you’re in the right place.
And if you can’t get the best view, don’t worry. The entire booth slowly rotates, so you can get a good glimpse of all 10 butter sculptures.
That said, you’ll have the best luck if you visit near the closing days of the fair, because those butter sculptures don’t happen overnight.
Each one takes 6-8 hours, and they carve one per day.
By day 12, you can enjoy the full gallery of butter heads. It’s an impressive exhibit!
The Legendary Butter Sculptor
Even more impressive? All the carving is done entirely by one artist.
For nearly 50 years, the sculptures were created by the only person with more butter royalty than the princesses, Linda Christensen. This friendly artist started her butter reign in 1972, after graduating from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, and she single-handedly carved over 500 butter busts all the way until 2021.
Christensen was so dedicated that even a cross-country move couldn’t stop her. (She moved to California in 2003, but she still returned to Minnesota every year for the State Fair.)
At age 80, she officially retired from butter carving. In a ceremonious event, she handed her butter-carving knife (she called it Old Faithful) to her new replacement.
Wait, a NEW sculptor?
2022 marked the first time in 50 years that we had a new butter sculptor at the Minnesota State Fair.
Linda Christensen selected 52-year old Gerry Kulzer, an art teacher from Litchfield, Minnesota, as her successor.
Like most fair goers, we were nervous about the change.
What if the guy had a different style than what we’ve come to know and love from our cherished butter heads? What if the sculptures didn’t turn out? What if they melted!?
(Okay, the last concern is unfounded… the butter booth is kept at a steady 40 degrees over the entire length of the fair.)
We walked into the dairy building with bated breath…
We peered over the massive crowds checking out the rotating stage. We caught a glimpse of the huge yellow blocks. And…
The rookie butter sculptor, Gerry Kulzer, has picked up right where Hall of Famer Linda Christensen left off. From oddly realistic butter faces to flowing butter hair, we can take comfort in knowing our State Fair’s butter sculptures aren’t going anywhere.
8 More Fun Facts about the Butter Sculptures at the Minnesota State Fair
1. The booth is kept at 40 degrees.
There’s a reason you see the sculptures and the princesses decked out in their winter jackets and boots!
2. Each butter sculpture takes 6-8 hours.
According to the fair’s legendary sculpture, Linda Christensen, the length of time depends mostly on the princess’s hair. (Long, curly hair takes the longest)
3. The sculptures are made out of a 90-pound block of butter.
Grade A, of course.
Salted, preferably. (Christensen said this is nicer to carve than unsalted.)
4. Linda Christensen sculpted over 500 butter heads over 5 decades.
That’s over 45,000 pounds of butter.
5. Oprah and Johnny Carson didn’t make the cut.
Both requested the state fair’s butter sculptor to rush some carvings into a one-hour time slot, but Linda Christensen turned down the requests.
(However, she did butter-sculpt David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, and even Sesame Street’s Big Bird – who needed a 300-pound block of butter to capture his likeness.)
6. Some princesses have kept their heads frozen for decades
One told The Washington Post that hers has held up amazingly well in the freezer since 1980.
7. The original butter booth was replaced in 2008.
After four decades, the iconic glass booth was replaced with a larger, more energy efficient version.
8. Minnesota claims to be the “Butter Capital of the Nation.”
The dairy association says butter sculpting began to highlight Minnesota’s title as the nation’s butter capital. A bold claim, but can you name any other states carving princesses out of butter?
We rest our case.
About Princess Kay of the Milky Way
What’s this catchy tagline, you ask?
Every year, counties from all over Minnesota select “Dairy Princesses” to compete for the prestigious title. Contestants are high school graduates under the age of 24 who are actively involved in the dairy industry.
Contrary to some serious misconceptions, the contest is not a beauty contest.
Instead, contestants are judged on their ability to effectively engage the community and promote the dairy industry. According to the official judging information, the contest includes:
- A written application about dairy involvement, leadership roles, future plans, and strengths
- A 9 minute professional interview
- Preparation and delivery of a 4-6 minute speech about the opening of a fictional dairy bar
- A 5-7 question mock media interview
County winners move onto the statewide competition and receive a crown which… and this is important… is under 4 inches tall. (This is expressly outlined in bold, underlined font within the official rules.)
By spring, the field is narrowed down to 100 princesses. Of those, 10 finalists are selected for PR roles at the Minnesota State Fair.
The night before the fair, the new Princess Kay is crowned with a tiara that’s definitely over 4 inches tall.
Role and Responsibilities
For the next 12 days of the fair, Princess Kay gives numerous media interviews and public appearances. And for the next 12 months, she stewards the crown, promoting the dairy industry all over the state. (You can actually request Princess Kay of the Milky Way visit your event or classroom via the Midwest Dairy website)
But most importantly, she and her other state fair finalists get their heads carved out of butter. (Roughly one per day)
So, is the butter booth worth a visit at the Minnesota State Fair?
It’s a state fair must-see!
And don’t forget to get some incredible ice cream while you’re there. It’s one of our best foods at the MN state fair.