Fair Flashback: Duffy Lyon

Fair | Clip
Aug 17, 2022 | 4 min

Take a trip through the Iowa PBS archives for a look back at the famous Butter Cow sculptor, Duffy Lyon.


BILL RILEY JR: In tonight's fair flash back, we're talking about the butter cow. 


Norma Lyon, better known as Duffy, was the 4th person and the first woman to sculpt the butter cow at the Iowa State Fair. Starting in 1960s he sculpted the butter cow and a companion sculpture every year until she retired in 2006.

BILL RILEY SR: An unsung artist, the sculptor of the Iowa State Fair's butter cow. Duffy Lyon from Toledo, Iowa.

BILL RILEY JR: It's a lot of fun to look back at some of her creations.

DUFFY LYON: The heads are the hardest for me to do. To get that eye just right is real pain staking, and I have to go outside and see what it looks like because when you're in here and right on top of her, you can't tell exactly how she looks until you go outside and get away from her at a distance.

IOWA PBS HOST: Duffy, I want to ask you about how you got started making butter sculpture.

DUFFY: It wasn't very nice. I saw a picture of the interim guy who did it before the original guy did. Apparently he had passed away. He had done it for two years, maybe three and I happened to see a photograph, and I just said, "I can do better than that." This is probably the most complicated thing I head made. I'm trying to do the best I can. I'll find all kinds of stuff wrong with it when I get away from here and see pictures. I just like doing this. Not for showoff reasons. I just like to do it, and if people enjoy it, that's fun for them.

IOWA PBS HOST: Mrs. Lyon, I think you have a butter hobby than most of us.

DUFFY: Thank you.


BILL RILEY JR: This summer, the fair had an opportunity to preserve her legacy by installing some of her work in a way that, well, is a little more permanent than butter.


STEVE MAXON, SCULPTOR: We're a bronze casting art foundry, so we make bronze statues and things like that. This was a fiberglass statue that Norma 'Duffy' Lyon made in clay originally I suppose, and somebody replicated it in fiberglass. And when the derecho went through, it was when parts of the oak tree fell off and smashed the fiber glass badly. So they brought it to us to repair the fiberglass and they wanted something a little more durable that would be derecho proof.

BILL: One casting was made to replace the original in Duffy's hometown of Toledo, Iowa. Another one is on display at Iowa State University's College of Veterinary Medicine, and before the mold was destroyed, a third was created to reside in front of the Agriculture Building on the Iowa State Fairgrounds.

B.J. BAKER, DONOR: As a young man, a child, you know, we would stand in line for an hour or two to see the butter cow. So it's been a part of my family and our lives before we knew what we were doing at the fair. Besides cotton candy and corn dogs, it was go see the butter cow. It was a beautiful tribute to the history of the butter cow and the dairy industry and their culture in general in Iowa. So it's gorgeous.