Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Sketching the Butter Head Artist: Achievement Unlocked

8/27/19 The farmer raising these cows was originally from Sammamish near Seattle. When Betty lifted her tail, the farmer
rushed in with a huge bucket to catch the stream before it made a mess in their stall. 
A blue ribbon winner

Sheep, cows, butter heads. . . I’ve been to sketching heaven!

Although we visit family in the Twin Cities every year, we aren’t often able to make our visit coincide with the Minnesota State Fair. The last time the stars aligned for us was in 2016, and I was lucky enough to join USk Twin Cities at the 8th Great Minnesota Fair Sketchout. This year we had more flexibility, so we were able to do it again, and I had the time of my life sketching at the 11th fair sketchout!

She had stepped away as organizer for a few years, but Roz Stendahl was back this time as our fearless leader and chicken sketcher extraordinaire. Founder of the fair sketchout, she pulled strings to attract quite a bit of local media coverage (more on that later). But most of all, she organized a fun sketch outing (two, in fact; I went on Tuesday, and a second group met on Saturday) at what is arguably the country’s best (if not the largest) state fair.

This dwarf hotot with lovely black eyes was pure white; the color splotches
were inadvertently transferred from the opposite page when it started raining.
My first priority was the animals – both furred and feathered. Animals of any kind are not easily accessible to this city girl, and since they are one of my all-time favorite sketch subjects, I eagerly wandered from barn to barn and sketched whatever would stay still for me (and even those that wouldn’t, like the bantam that pecked and turned around continuously).  

Nervous, twitchy bantam

This young sheep had been born premature; his breeder told me Little Joe could fit in the palm of one hand on the day he was born. 

Queuing up for the sheep competition
Trimming a cow before competition

A special rendition of Rouser as I eat Australian battered potatoes.
My first of many food breaks was for a huge plate of Australian battered potatoes (with sour cream and sweet chili sauce! The best thing I ate at this fair). A man passing by asked me what they were, so I offered him and his kids samples. Grateful for the snack, he wanted to pay me back by playing “Rouser” on his trumpet. At this offer, I must have disappointed him, because I simply muttered “OK,” with my mouth full of potato.

Undeterred, he pulled out his trumpet and delivered the song, which ended with lyrics that made me realize “Rouser” was a game fight song of the University of Minnesota. I apologized for my non-local ignorance – surely he had expected more enthusiasm when he announced what his performance would be! Yes, I did consider sketching him, but at that moment my fingers were so greasy that my pencils would have slid out of my hands. I was content to enjoy the performance as I munched potatoes, thinking about how much I love this fair.

The crowds admire the completed butter heads.

As much fun as I was having sketching animals, I had a specific mission: to catch the sculptor at work on a butter head. Since 1965, the same artist has been carving the likenesses of the reigning Princess Kay of the Milky Way and her court every year. Each bust is made of 90 pounds of butter, and the sitter gets to keep the finished bust when the fair is over. (The pageant winners all seem to come from dairy farm families, so presumably they have refrigerators large enough to store a 90-pound butter sculpture of themselves. If not, I guess they eat it quickly.)

In 2016, I arrived at the butter heads exhibit just after the sculptor had left for the day, so although I saw the busts, I was very disappointed to miss the action. This time I arrived shortly before artist Linda Christenson returned to work on Princess Elizabeth Golombiecki. I warmed up by sketching the crowds admiring the completed butter heads.

The challenge was a minor detail that I had forgotten about from the previous visit: The sculptor, the sitter and the surrounding completed busts are enclosed in a rotating, refrigerated platform (kept at 40 degrees). To sketch them, I couldn’t stand in one spot; I had to walk slowly around the glass refrigerator trying to maintain the same view. It was my most challenging sketch of the fair, but very much worth it to achieve my personal mission.
The sitter fielded questions from the audience as the artist continued working on her butter bust.
Reg Chapman of WCCO TV

About that media coverage: After the final meetup and sketchbook throwdown, Roz led us to local TV station WCCO, where host Reg Chapman prepped us for our three minutes of fame (see the video segment). Twin Cities sketcher James Nutt represented Urban Sketchers well, and all of us got to show our sketches during the live broadcast (I’m barely visible, but you can see my sketch and purple bag toward the end).

As in previous years, Minnesota Public Radio also featured sketches (including some of mine) from the fair on its website.

We don’t get to go every year (after all the deep-fried foods I consumed that day, my arteries are grateful that we don’t), but whenever I’m lucky enough to attend, I’m convinced it’s the best fair in the country.  

Many thanks to Roz for organizing another terrific fair sketchout!
Sketchers at the Fair! (Photo courtesy of Tom Nelson)

I'm proud to add my 11th sketchout button (designed by Roz) to my collection. At right is my 8th sketchout button. I hope to add more to my collection someday.

See, I ate my vegetables, too.
Greg was thrilled to find a gluten-free grilled cheese sandwich!


  1. Sounds like a fun outing. I could use some of those battered potatoes. I'm glad you were able to attend during your visit. I've only been to Minneapolis twice on business with Microsoft. All I remember is that it was cold.

    1. We had mostly pleasant weather while we were there... warm but not hot, and not humid at all (unusual for August). But I've been there in the winter too, and it was the coldest I have ever experienced! (15 below)


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