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Murray Journal

Murray sculptor hopes to butter you up

Sep 05, 2019 03:31PM ● By Shaun Delliskave

Debbie Brown sculpts a comical butter cow. (Photo courtesy Debbie Brown)

By Shaun Delliskave | [email protected]

All great sculptors have a favorite medium in which to ply their craft. For Michelangelo, it was stone, Chihuly it is glass, and Remington it was bronze. However, for Debbie Brown of Murray, Utah, it is butter. You will be able to catch Brown’s latest creation, “A Kinda Magic,” at this year’s Utah State Fair.

“Our cow will be performing several magic tricks, such as cutting a goat in half, levitating a farmer, and pulling a bunny from a hat. Cows are pretty magical, and this one is a multitasking magician,” Brown said.

Brown is a serious sculptor, having graduated with a degree in art and design from Brigham Young University. She refined her skills at Wasatch Bronzeworks in Lehi. So how does a serious artist get churned venturing into the world of condiments?

“The Dairy Farmers of Utah contacted me. They invited Iowa butter sculptor Duffy Lyons to Utah to train me that year on how to create a life-size cow with an armature (metal framework) and 700 lbs. of butter. I loved learning this crazy, new sculpting process with butter in a 38-degree cooler. We wore layers of thermals but had no gloves because we needed our hands to sculpt the butter,” Brown said.

Like bread and butter, Brown and her medium have been in high demand. In 2003, her “Cow Jumping Over the Moon” sculpture earned Best of Show at the Utah State Fair. Corporations have even called for her handiwork. 

“Two Southwest Airlines executives were promoted, so I received their photographs and sculpted a bust of each of them [in cheese] and shipped them to SWA’s headquarters in Dallas, where they said they ate cheese for days,” Brown said. “I guess we should have sent crackers with the gift.”

Sculpting this dairy product is not as easy as taking a hot knife through… well, butter. The butter needs to be the right consistency to work with it in the cooler. If it is too soft, it drips off the armature framework. If it’s too hard, they have to work it to make it pliable. The convenient thing about sculpting with butter is that Brown can continue to shape, add, and remove it, unlike sculpting cheese, which is less forgiving. Also, the cold temperature affects her hands, so she frequently steps outside the cooler to warm them up.

“One year, when we were all finished and the sculpture was on display for a few days, the cooler blew a fuse, and the butter sculpture began to melt. I got a panicked call to fix the melting hand of the butter cowboy,” Brown said.

One month before the fair, Brown and fellow sculptor Matt McNaughtan, who is a ceramics sculptor from Heber, work with a local welder at Sugar Post in Salt Lake to build the armature framework for each of the characters in the display. They wrap each figure in a wire mesh so that they can apply the butter to it once it is transported to the cooler in Promontory Hall at the fair. Starting on Labor Day, they begin sculpting in the cooler. Typically, it takes them about 40 hours to complete the sculpture each year.

Still, Brown knows which side her bread is buttered on and longs for the opportunity to return to stone sculpting. “I would love to sculpt a strong woman in stone. I admire so many great female role models because they have helped me develop my talents and confidence as a woman. I would like to honor them with a lasting sculpture.”

All butter puns aside, you can catch Brown and McNaughtan’s creation at the Utah State Fair, Sept. 5 – 15 in the fair park’s Promontory Hall.