One of the most benign pieces of folk art in America was turned into a canvas for political protest over the weekend. Every year since 1911, a cow sculpted out of butter is displayed in a glass-walled refrigerator at the Iowa State Fair in Des Moines, IA. On Sunday, animal rights activists broke into the dairy sculpture’s chilled confines and doused it with fake blood, writing “Freedom For All” in red paint on the glass window.
There’s plenty of flesh-and-blood livestock at the fair, including the state’s largest hog, but the dairy sculpture is such a longstanding symbol of the fair—which is in many ways a showcase for the state’s massive agriculture industry—and that’s surely what made it the target. A group that calls itself Iowans for Animal Liberation is claiming responsibility for the vandalism. In an email sent to the Des Moines Register, the group said, “The paint represents the blood of 11 billion animals murdered each year in slaughterhouses, egg farms, and dairies.”
From 1960 to 2006, the annual butter cow and other butter-based sculptures were created by Norma Lyon—better known at the Butter Cow Lady. Arguably the foremost dairy sculptor in the country, Lyon, who died in 2011 at the age of 81, occasionally worked religion into her sculpture, and created both a bust of and an endorsement spot for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama in 2007. But save for those instances, dairy sculpture has never been politicized at the fair.
However, this is not the first time someone has attempted to use the most famous hunk of butter in the Hawkeye state to convey a message. The Register points out that, “someone made a failed attempt to place a note on the cow a few years ago. The note slipped off the slick surface.”