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Iowa's 'Butter Cow Lady,' A 'Born Artist,' Has Died

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Norma "Duffy" Lyon passed away over the weekend at the age of 81.

If you don't recognize that name, maybe this will help: for 46 years she was "the butter cow lady" at the annual Iowa State Fair.

Aug. 6, 2003, file photo: Norma "Duffy" Lyon stands next to a life-size dairy cow she sculpted from butter at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines.

Aug. 6, 2003, file photo: Norma "Duffy" Lyon stands next to a life-size dairy cow she sculpted from butter at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines. Charlie Neibergall /AP hide caption

itoggle caption Charlie Neibergall /AP

That is, she was the artist who every year would create a life-sized cow out of butter for display at that fair (and a few others around the country). It is, as the Iowa fair's website says, one of the big attractions in Des Moines every August.

Lyon was such a legend in her home state that in 2007 then-candidate Barack Obama sought — and won — her endorsement before the Iowa presidential caucuses.

On hearing of her death from a stroke, the White House issued a statement from the president praising Lyon for sculptures that "became not just an attraction, but a symbol of all the cherished traditions of the place she called home."

Lyon's last butter cow at the Iowa fair was sculpted in 2005. This afternoon, All Things Considered host Melissa Block spoke with the woman who took over the honor in 2006, Sarah Pratt, who like Lyon is from Toledo, Iowa.

"What was it about sculpting out of butter that [Lyon] liked so much?" Melissa asked.

"I think she was a born artist," Pratt said. "No matter what the medium was going to be, she was going to be an artist." It didn't hurt that she was also a dairy farmer and had studied animal science.

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Melissa Block talks with Sarah Pratt about Norma "Duffy" Lyon

Much more from the conversation with Pratt will be on All Things Considered later. Click here to find an NPR station that broadcasts or streams the show. Later, we'll add the as-broadcast version of the interview to the top of this post.

Meanwhile, our friends at Iowa Public Television covered Lyon and her butter art over the years. Here are three of their reports, starting with one from 1983:

Iowa Public Television YouTube
Iowa Public Television YouTube
Iowa Public Television YouTube

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