Corn Palaces and Butter Queens
A History of Crop Art and Dairy Sculpture
Publication Year: 2012
Teddy Roosevelt’s head sculpted from butter. The Liberty Bell replicated in oranges. The Sioux City Corn Palace of 1891 encased with corn, grains, and grasses and stretching for two city blocks—with a trolley line running down its center. Between 1870 and 1930, from county and state fairs to the world’s fairs, large exhibition buildings were covered with grains, fruits, and vegetables to declare in no uncertain terms the rich agricultural abundance of the United States. At the same fairs—but on a more intimate level—ice-cooled cases enticed fairgoers to marvel at an array of butter sculpture models including cows, buildings, flowers, and politicians, all proclaiming the rich bounty and unending promise held by the region.
Often viewed as mere humorous novelties—fun and folksy, but not worthy of serious consideration—these lively forms of American art are described by Pamela H. Simpson in a fascinating and comprehensive history. From the pioneering cereal architecture of Henry Worrall at the Philadelphia Centennial Exposition to the vast corn palaces displayed in Sioux City, Iowa, and elsewhere between 1877 and 1891, Simpson brings to life these dazzling large-scale displays in turn-of-the-century American fairs and festivals. She guides readers through the fascinating forms of crop art and butter sculpture, as they grew from state and regional fairs to a significant place at the major international exhibitions. The Minnesota State Fair’s Princess Kay of the Milky Way contest, Lillian Colton’s famed pictorial seed art, and the work of Iowa’s “butter cow lady,” Norma “Duffy” Lyon, are modern versions of this tradition.
Beautifully illustrated with a bounty of never-before-seen archival images, Corn Palaces and Butter Queens is an accessible history of one of America’s most unique and beguiling Midwestern art forms—an amusing and peculiar phenomenon that profoundly affected the way Americans saw themselves and their country’s potential during times of drought and great depression.
Published by: University of Minnesota Press
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When I tell people I have been working on the history of corn palaces and butter sculpture for the past twelve years, they either say, oh, yes, they have been to Mitchell to see the Corn Palace, or they give me a blank stare and say, “What?” Those two responses summarize what has happened to the history of food art: either people know it through modern mani-festations or they have never heard of it and find the whole idea bizarre. I first discovered ...
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Blanche DuBois had it right: one must depend on the kindness of strangers. Once friends are added to the list, quite a group needs to be thanked for help and support during the past twelve years. I start with my own institution, Washington and Lee University, where a series of Glenn and Lenfest grants helped fund research travel and where sabbaticals in 2001, 2005, and 2010 gave me needed time for research and writing. I thank June Aprille, ...
INTRODUCTION: Corn Palaces, Crop Art, and Butter Sculpture
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On reflection more wonderful seems the art that has been created from The Sioux City Corn Palace celebration in 1891 opened with a grand parade. Mounted police units, carriages full of city and county officials, and three marching bands accom-panied King Corn and Queen Cerea as they made their triumphal way to the palace. James E. Booge, a local businessman who was president of the organizing committee, played the ...
1 Banquet Tables to Trophy Displays
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Written long before corn palaces were built on the Great Plains, Hans Sachs’s description of mythical houses made of cake is a reminder that people have been shaping food into fanciful forms for centuries, both through the imagination of folktales and in literal food-art constructions.1 In order to understand the history of turn-of-the-century corn palaces, crop art, and butter sculptures, it is necessary to first consider the history of ...
2 Cereal Architecture
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The work of the decorating was done under the direction of Mr. Henry Worrall of Topeka. . . . It was his design that all Kansas was proud of at In 1876, Caroline Dall, a correspondent for a Boston newspaper, wrote a series of articles about the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. Among the many exhibits she saw, she singled out the Kansas display as the “finest State show on the grounds.” She described the ...
3 Butter Cows and Butter Ladies
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There has been placed this week in the Woman’s Building, an exhibit extremely unique. The Dairyman’s Association might claim it as their own—for its material; the art gallery has nothing in it more graceful.Visitors to the 1876 Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia saw much to amaze them, but one item that drew their attention was a bas-relief portrait, Dreaming Iolanthe (Figure ...
4 America’s World’s Fairs, 1893–1915
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The eye wanders through the long aisles and over the immense surface of the floor and sees everywhere a picture of peace and plenty. There is a store house of Mother Earth, here she has brought her increase to gladden the eyes and hearts of men; here is spread out in choice variety and endless —William E. Cameron, The World’s Fair, Being a Pictorial History ...
5 Boosters, Saracens, and Indians
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With nearly one billion [acres] of unsettled lands on one side of the Atlantic, and with many millions of poor and oppressed people on the other, let the people of the North organize the exodus which must come, and build, if necessary, a bridge of gold across the chasm which divides them, that the chosen races of mankind may occupy the chosen lands of ...
6 Mrs. Brooks and President Roosevelt
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...[Caroline Brooks, the artist, was] “a bright little American woman.”[Theodore Roosevelt was a] “masculine sort of person with extremely Butter sculpture is a medium strongly associated with women. Traditionally, women were in charge of butter making, and they were predominant among the early butter sculp-tors. Even the nineteenth-century language used to describe butter and butter sculpture ...
7 An Ongoing Tradition
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Like grandma and her bobbed hair, [the Mitchell Corn Palace] has become modern, and still holds a wide place in the life of the community.This study primarily focuses on the period between 1870 and 1930, but the traditions of cereal architecture, crop art, and butter sculpture persisted into the second half of the twentieth century. Oscar Howe made important contributions to the iconography of the ...
CONCLUSION: Icons of Abundance
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Here, then, in this Sioux City Corn Palace is the story of the . . . magical development of the great northwest. In view of this there can be no wonder that the thousands have made such haste . . . to seize upon such lands, What lessons are there in this history? This study of corn palaces, crop art, and butter sculpture has addressed questions about the origin of food constructions, the development ...
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Portions of the Introduction and chapter 1 appeared previously in “A Vernacular Recipe for Sculpture—Butter, Sugar, Corn,” American Art 24, no. 1 (Spring 2010): 23–26.Portions of chapters 1 and 2 were published in “Cereal Architecture: Late-Nineteenth-Century Corn Palaces,” in Building Environments: Perspectives in Vernacular Architecture,volume 10, edited by Kenneth A. Breisch and Alison K. Hoagland, (Knoxville: University ...
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Page Count: 264
Publication Year: 2012