If you carved larger-than-life busts of dairy princesses out of a 90-pound block of butter while spinning in a refrigerated glass booth at Minnesota State Fairs for 50 years, you’d have a lot of stories to tell. .
Linda Christensen, who recently quit after half a century of creating Dairy Princess Butterheads for the Minnesota Dairy Princess program, has often said she could write a book about the weird and wonderful experiences she’s had in as a butter carver.
Now she has.
His recently released “Princess Kay & Me” is a memoir of her unique career as an artist, full of affection for the State Fair, the dairy princesses, and the state’s dairy community. Here are some sweet and creamy facts we learned about the life of a butter sculptor:
A summer concert
Christensen became the fair’s “official butter artist” in 1972 after an employment agent at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design told her the position was available. She thought it would be a fun way to earn money over the summer after graduation until she figured out what she wanted to do with her BFA.
receive and give
When she enrolled in MCAD at age 26, she was the first married woman with children to enter college. After her first semester, she ran out of money but was able to stay thanks to a scholarship from Bruce Dayton, the father of former Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. “I never met him, but to this day my gratitude is endless,” Christensen wrote. Years later, Minnesota Dairy Farmers established a scholarship in his name at MCAD.
From Big Bird to Bunyan
Over the years, Christensen has sculpted much more than milkmaid princesses. She has also been commissioned to sculpt a large Butterbird for the Children’s Television Network, a Butterbust bust of David Letterman, busts of two Seattle mayoral candidates, a Buttercat for an international video festival on the cats, a Paul Bunyan butter and a Mary Pawlenty butter. , wife of former Governor Tim Pawlenty.
Butter is better
Christensen also got jobs making sculptures out of other foods: Conan O’Brien in white chocolate, Elvis Presley and Dolly Parton in margarine, and a carousel out of cheddar cheese. But she likes butter as a medium because “the smooth translucency of the surface is unlike any other.”
She prefers salted butter to unsalted butter. A knife goes through salted butter easier, she says. Plus, it tastes better.
The end of butter
After the fair is over, the busts are usually lovingly stored in a family freezer by the participating dairy queens. But some butterheads have made appearances on television, been used in corn food, eaten in 4-H pancake breakfasts, or slowly used over the years to make cookies or Christmas cookies.
Journey with David
David Letterman’s butterhead took a horse-drawn carriage ride through New York’s Central Park, took a ferry to the Statue of Liberty and was served on French bread outside the Ed Sullivan Theater. The remains were photographed in The New York Times melting into the gutter.
Tool in place
Christensen used a handful of tools to sculpt the butter, including a clay cutter wire, a paring knife, stiff wire hoops on sticks originally designed for shaping clay, paddles made of wood and the heat of his own hands for a final smoothing. For over 30 years, she also used a wooden-handled butcher’s knife she called “Old Faithful”, which she passed down to her replacement, Gerry Kulzer.
Not made for TV
TV show producers once sent Christensen to Hollywood in hopes of developing a butter-sculpting reality show. They were disappointed when she told them that dairy princesses aren’t mean to each other and that there are no butter sculpting competitions. It was forbidden for the show.
On the side
Being the State Fair Butter Sculptor isn’t a full-time life. During her 50 years at the fair, Christensen also worked as an art teacher, calligrapher and medical illustrator. She designed a line of greeting cards and owned a gift shop and sculpture studio. She served as a waitress, a sampler at Costco, and sold plants, succulents, and cacti at farmers’ markets.
Over the years, Hubert Humphrey, Paul Wellstone, Al Franken, Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith have been among the politicians to stop by the Dairy Building’s butter carving stand. At his last fair as a butter carver in 2021, Gov. Tim Walz came forward to proclaim Christensen’s last carving day — August 27 — as “Linda Christensen Day” in the state of Minnesota.