17th Most Favorite Thing About the State Fair of Texas: The Butter Sculpture
I think it’s safe to say that there’s been quite a bit of agitation this year regarding butter at the Fair. Ever since our newly-minted culinary curiosity, deep fried butter, appeared on the scene last week, butter tumults have erupted everywhere. I’ve read disparaging Facebook posts, seen national and local news anchors scrunch up their noses in disgust, and even had a friend (who lives on the East Coast) ask me what on earth was going on “down there” in Texas.
A butter backlash is building. I don’t know how long we have until the ill will turns to violence, or worse, a crackdown on Fair nutrition, but I do know that something must be done.
So I propose we remember butter as it used to be at the Fair, before it was deep fried and served on a stick. I propose a return to days of innocence, when the real butter story involved an artiste, devoted enough to her craft to sit for days on end in a very cold refrigerated room, carving with numbed fingers until a block of yellow fat gave way to unlikely visages of Elvis or Marilyn Monroe, or… um… something having to do a jackal and King Tut’s tomb.
I am proposing that we stop for a moment, in the midst of all the furor, to consider the quiet grace of the Butter Sculpture.
Lest we forget, the Butter Sculpture has been, for many years, an iconic showstopper at the fair. Big or small, old or young, male or female, just about every type of fairgoer has stopped outside the glassed-in exhibit at the north end of the Creative Arts building for a peek at that year’s butter tribute. The craftsmanship is really quite astonishing — the figures are life-sized, the detail is uncanny (just look at Marilyn’s skirt!), and you keep having to remind yourself that the medium is, in fact, food. Now, I will be the first to admit that there is a direct connection between food and art — and that some food IS art — but this is an entirely unique take.
Lest you think this process is not necessarily fraught with drama, be advised that sculpting butter can be tricky work. Elvis here, for instance, was completed and ready to greet State Fair guests one year when he took an unfortunate plunge and landed on his face on the exhibit floor. Expert ace professional that she is, the butter sculptor returned to Dallas ASAP and fixed the entire snafu — by the time we saw him at the Fair, he looked none the worse for his unfortunate spill.
To be honest, checking out a Butter Elvis is part of the reason for attending the Fair. Yes, fully 95% of a good State Fair visit should be spent stuffing your face with fat. I propose that the other 5% should at least contain a moment (or many) actually contemplating a person MADE ENTIRELY of fat. Aside from the gentle irony of such a situation (especially if you happen to be eating fried cookie dough or fried macaroni & cheese at the time), the entire scene is just plain weird. It’s amazing and beautiful and a spectacular display of talent, to be sure, but it’s also just strange.
Which is, of course, perfect for the Fair. I can remember walking up and down the Midway as a young tot and seeing signs for freakshows of all kinds — the alligator man, the smallest lady in the world, the two headed snake, the bearded woman — alas, the only freaks left on our Midway now are a few straggly fairgoers, probably acting strange due to a combination of too much sugar and fry. So it helps to be able to count on a little oddity at the Fair each year. That’s why we need the Butter Sculpture.
I’m actually very much looking forward to this year’s work of art. The sculptor’s past few entries have hewed rather closely to either the Fair theme of the year, a particular exhibit at the Fair, or a newsworthy event in Dallas (like the arrival of the King Tut exhibit, as depicted, above). You never know what will be waiting for you in the refrigerated exhibit, but you do know for sure that it will be topical.
Given this year’s fair food brouhaha, I’m pondering the likelihood of rounding the corner in the Creative Arts building this year and seeing, in the big exhibit, the yellow, life-sized figure of a fairgoer… holding a half-eaten stick of fried butter.
Butter cannibalism. It could be an interesting way to go.