Butter sculptures
October 23, 2002 6:24 AM   Subscribe

Butter sculptures can be rather elaborate, and are a folk art favorite at country fairs in the U.S. And on the other side of the globe in the ancient Himalayas, butter sculpting is an ancient symbolic tradition among Tibetan Buddhists, and is also an integral part of annual festivals and celebrations.
But in other dairy art, cheese sculptures haven't achieved quite the same level of dignity.
thanks to Wordforge for the Jim Victor link.
posted by madamjujujive (14 comments total)

seriously though, great link. very interesting.
posted by eatdonuts at 6:35 AM on October 23, 2002

The Royal Winter Fair in Toronto always has some excellent butter sculptures by Ontario College of Art students. A couple years ago there was a butter sculpture of a giant piece of toast. (And a life-sized buddha, but the toast was cooler.)
posted by Fabulon7 at 6:36 AM on October 23, 2002

um, like, wow.
posted by anathema at 6:53 AM on October 23, 2002

i for one welcome our new butter sculpting overlords.
posted by sgt.serenity at 7:01 AM on October 23, 2002

I saw a 2000 pound butter sculpture of a cow at the Ohio State fair this year. I wouldnt say it was the highlight of my summer but still interesting. There were pictures and information detailing how it was made. It required a steel frame and took a team of engineers to design. But it looks like they just cut away from one huge block of butter.
posted by Recockulous at 7:37 AM on October 23, 2002

I can vouch that it's an ancient symbolic tradition that doesn't fare well in South Louisiana. The tormas we have made for ceremonies included beeswax or ghee instead. I think once we have been able to use butter, but it was winter and we couldn't run the heat. Still, it can be pretty amazing and quite elaborate.
posted by mblandi at 8:12 AM on October 23, 2002

reminds me of an ani difranco song.
posted by grabbingsand at 8:32 AM on October 23, 2002

I knit, and your hands get dried out like mad from the yarn absorbing all of the moisture out of your skin. Butter scultping and cheese spraying, with all that high fat content, probably leave your hands as soft as a baby's butt. Hmm. Butter afghans and cheese mittens for Christmas presents this year, maybe.
posted by iconomy at 8:35 AM on October 23, 2002

What is the origin of Food Sculpture? Has mankind always played with his food? I would hazzard a guess it dates back to the transition to an agriculture society when a large amount of food could be displayed in a wastefull but pleasing way as a symbol of wealth and power.

With the discovery that butter is a leading contributor to the leading cause of death is it not somehow morbid to display it in such a wholesome manner it would be akin to makeing a sculpture out of guns or wrecked vehicles. A butter sculpture of a man having open heart surgery would be tasteless, they left the salt out afterall, but more appropriate.
posted by stbalbach at 9:02 AM on October 23, 2002

It's always a treat to see how totally different cultures create artworks out of foodstuff.
posted by taratan at 11:10 AM on October 23, 2002

I think it has to do with it being food offerings, artful symbolic food offerings, to quasi-symbolic figures. Tormas, as I mention above can be representations of a palace, and are simultaneously food offerings made of Tibetan staples: Barley, and Butter.

Food is something we hold dear and enjoy. To offer it is to offer something of value and for sustainment. It's not a big stretch to imagine that quasi-symbolic beings would like some good, fancy, quasi-symbolic food.
posted by mblandi at 12:23 PM on October 23, 2002

I think food is viewed as a precious and valued gift to offer to a deity, and that the displays can also be a celebration of plenty and thanks. Over time, these rituals have often translated to the secular. And yikes, I am much happier to have this ritual be in the form of really cool butter sculptures than other types of public sacrificial offerings.

And stbalbach, the association of guns & butter is interesting not just in the health context you mention it but as a political backdrop to our times.

Though if I have to pick a weapon of choice for my demise from either of those, I'll choose butter rum cake over rifles any day.

Iconomy - how "bout hand-knit mittens and homemade butter cookies? That sounds like the kind of Christmas gift I would like. Tho I must say cheesy mittens do sound intriguing.
posted by madamjujujive at 1:23 PM on October 23, 2002

I knit, and your hands get dried out like mad from the yarn absorbing all of the moisture out of your skin.

Iconomy, you need to be knitting with untreated wool...all that lanolin is marvelous for your hands.

I saw a 2000 pound butter sculpture of a cow at the Ohio State fair

Poor you! You only get a stupid cow. We get whole scenes.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 4:58 PM on October 23, 2002

They say you can't go home again, but last January I found myself back in Harrisburg PA and, for the first time in decades, attended the Pennsylvania Farm Show. It's pretty amazing, in fact it's "the largest indoor agricultural event in America.... 16 acres inside, spread throughout 7 buildings." Traditionally they have a giant butter sculpture, and it's not just farming scenes.

In 2002, the 800 pounds of butter, America's Heroes, depicted a New York City fireman and policeman, and a soldier. The best photo I can find is here, in the fifth story down the page.

p.s. I went to junior high school almost 40 years ago (!) with the daughter of the man who took the butter sculpture photo, who a year or so earlier had won the 1962 Pulitzer Prize for a picture of Eisenhower and Kennedy. I am amazed that he is still working as an AP photographer.
posted by LeLiLo at 9:14 PM on October 23, 2002

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