Norma Lyon: The Woman Behind the Butter Cow

Today’s post is brought to you by another of SCUA’s fabulous student workers, Zoe. She has been processing a collection we have posted about before (see the first and second posts), although today she brings a new perspective to our final post about ISU alumnus Norma “Duffy” Lyon, aka “The Butter Cow Lady” (Collection RS 21/7/280). We hope you enjoy a behind the scenes look at the life of Norma, a woman who helped shape the Iowa State Fair, which is currently happening.

This collection (the Norma Lyon papers, RS 21/7/280) is open for research, and more information can be requested by contacting us.

 – Rosalie Gartner
Lead Processing Archivist


 

While many know her simply as the Butter Cow Lady, there is much more to Norma “Duffy” Lyon than just her creamy dairy creations. While working on this collection, I have learned all about her life and career as a sculptor and would like to share what I have learned with you.

Image 001, College Photo

Norma “Duffy” Stong, the ISU Harvest Ball Queen, 1948

Lyon was born Norma Duffield Stong, an Iowa farm girl with a passion for animals. In order to turn this passion into a career, Norma studied Animal Husbandry at ISU, earning her Bachelor of Science in 1951. During her time at Iowa State University, her sculpting talents were recognized. The Artist-in-Residence of the University, Christian Petersen, saw an ice and snow sculpture done by Norma and encouraged her to attend his sculpting classes. Thus, Norma began to refine her talent as an artist.

Image 002, First Sculpture

Alpha Delta Pi Winter Festival sculpture, 1949

After graduating, Norma married her college sweetheart Joe Lyon, and the two moved to Toledo, Iowa, to open Lyon Jerseys, where they raised dairy cattle. In 1960, Norma was asked to take over the job of carving the butter cow for the Iowa State Fair.

Image 003, First Butter Cow

Norma sculpting her first butter cow, 1960

She carved cows for the fair for the next 46 years, each one unique and showing an exquisite amount of detail that only a master of the craft could accomplish. Her sculptures attracted visitors from all over Iowa, each one wanting a glance at the famous life-sized butter cow.

Norma was not just a sculptor of cattle! During her career, she carved various animal statues at fairs across the Midwest, always returning to the Iowa State Fair to showcase her greatest works. She continued to show her passion for horses in particular, sculpting several over the years.

Image 006, Butter Horses

Horse and foal butter sculpture, Iowa State Fair, 1984

In 1994, with the approval of the Fair officials, Norma expanded her repertoire even further with the addition of people. Her first displayed sculpture of a human subject was none other than country legend Garth Brooks. Fair-goers loved the addition, and from that point on she added many more buttery likenesses of everyone from Elvis to Tiger Woods (with a life sized tiger included)!

Image 007, Garth Brooks.jpg

Garth Brooks butter sculpture, 1994

It comes as no surprise that Duffy Lyon garnered recognition on a national scale. She crafted butter busts of Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, Barack Obama, and a cheddar cheese bust of David Letterman. Norma appeared on the game show To Tell the Truth and the popular talk show The Late Show with David Letterman – she even brought Mr. Letterman a tiny cow carved out of cheese.

Image 008, Norma and her Butter Cow

Norma with one of her final butter cows, undated

A statue stands in Norma’s home town of Toledo, Iowa, commemorating the famous Iowa State Fair butter cow, and in turn celebrating her term as its sculptor. The town’s welcome sign proudly declares, “Home of the Butter Cow Lady!” Norma carved her final butter cow in 2006, passing on the mantle of butter sculptor to her mentee, Sarah Pratt. While the job title may have passed on to a new sculptor, Norma “Duffy” Lyon will always be remembered as the original Butter Cow Lady.

 

Image 009, Posing with Statue.jpg

Norma Lyon at the unveiling of her commemorative statue in Toledo, Iowa. Undated.


Unusual Finds from the Knowles Blunck Architecture collection

Today’s blog post is a highlight into a new collection currently being processed by Ashley, one of the many wonderful student workers SCUA has working behind the scenes to make sure  we are able to provide access to as many collections as possible. Our student workers help with just about any task you can imagine; if you’ve ever been to SCUA then you’ve benefited from all the work they do!

This collection came to us late 2016, and is very large – about 60 boxes. The architectural firm that donated it, Knowles Blunck Architecture, has many connections to ISU and we hope that the students studying in the Department of Architecture will benefit from the many projects and years of experience documented in this collection. The Collection contains images of sites during all phases of the design and build process, award submissions, floor plans, and much more.

Once this collection is fully processed and available for researchers, we’ll post again with more details!

Rosalie Gartner
Lead Processing Archivist


At the beginning of May, I started working on MS 703, a collection donated by an architecture firm called Knowles Blunck Architecture. This Des Moines based firm donated materials chronicling their various projects through documents, slides, photos, and negatives. My previous project largely contained only paper records, so I was excited to work with new formats. When I was first assigned this project I was informed of two things: all the materials were organized into binders and this collection could contain dirt from the firm’s job sites. Since then I have gone through many boxes filled with binders and the dirt is not actually the strangest material I have discovered in this collection. While processing the collection I have found wallpaper, photos with speech bubbles drawn in, and even homemade panoramas.  These materials stuck out to me, so I decided to focus on them in this blog post.

Dirt from various job sites can be found in some of the binders.

Knowles Blunck Binder with Dirt

This picture shows how much dirt from a work site came out of a binder.

 

 

These swatches of wallpaper were taken during a renovation Knowles Blunck completed in the East Village in Des Moines, Iowa. They were in a building located at 420 Locust Street and are undated.

Wallpaper samples taken out of 420 Locust St, Des Moines, IA during renovation.

 

When Knowles Blunck was Herbert Lewis Kruse Blunck, the firm worked on an addition to Drake Legal Clinic in which they added a mock court room which can be seen in this homemade panorama. This collection has contained many photos taped together to show a larger range of certain rooms.

Knowles Blunck Panorama

This shows the full layout of the panorama they created by taping together 15 individual photographs.

 

KB Panorama

Another view of the panorama shot.

 

This photo is also from the addition at Drake Legal Clinic. It was taken in a room containing audio visual equipment. This photo is not the only photo I have discovered with writing on it, but it is the only one I have seen with a speech bubble.

SpeechBubble

This shows one of the doodles added to a photograph in this collection.

 

I am still processing this collection, but once I have finished I will write a blog post announcing that it is open to researchers. Also, be ready for an upcoming post sharing Knowles Blunck’s connection to Iowa State University, including our very own Parks Library.

 


Newly Processed Collection Highlight – the John D. Pusey Collection

The John D. Pusey Collection (MS 241) is a collection I’ve been excited about processing since I started here at SCUA back in November. The first time I opened the boxes, I was greeted by beautiful drawings, notes with artistic doodles, and intriguing scrapbooks. Unfortunately, I was also greeted by fragile materials that were difficult to handle and in disarray. Because so much of it was in poor shape, we had to restrict access until the collection could be sent to the Preservation Department, where it is currently being stabilized for use. Once all the items in the collection have been stabilized, the finding aid will be finalized, and it will be made available to researchers.

Paperclip1 Edited

A paper clip from the collection causing damage to the papers it holds.

John D. Pusey was a native Iowan, born in Council Bluffs in 1905. His entire life and career as both artist and military man read like a story book. Thankfully, we have this collection to help tell his story! Right after he graduated from high school, he set off on a grand adventure to pursue a career in art. He attended multiple schools, finally earning an art degree from Yale before moving to France to study art at the Musee du Louvre and the Musee du Luxembourg.

ScrapbookpgYale Edited Closeup

A 1925-1926 class photograph of the Yale School of Fine Arts featuring John Pusey.

Pusey returned to the U.S. before the Great Depression began. He was fortunate to be commissioned by the Public Works of Art Project to create murals in public buildings in Iowa City, which he did under the supervision of a well-known artist by the name of Grant Wood. Under Wood’s supervision and guidance, Pusey further developed his artistic style.

ScrapbookpgPeterson_WPA

This photograph found in a scrapbook shows Pusey painting for the Public Works of Art Project during 1933-1934.

After he was done with the W.P.A., Pusey found work in a variety of ways; he spent two years painting a mural in the home of the wealthy Eli Lilly, worked as a set designer for Universal Studios, and painted murals at the San Francisco World Fair in 1939.

ScrapbookpgPeterson_Worlds Fair

This photograph taken from the same scrapbook, shows John Pusey posing with one of the murals he created for the San Francisco Worlds Fair in 1939.

 

At this point, John Pusey enlisted in the military to serve in WWII. His military career was equally as fascinating as his art career. Shortly after enlisting, he was transferred to the Army Corps of Engineers where his skill as an artist was put to use designing camouflage patterns, in addition to diffusing bombs! He served in WWII as well as the Korean War. We have many personal photos taken while he was in Korea, and his notes taken during his military training are full of doodles in the margins.

After retiring from the military, Pusey returned to his life as a painter. Much of his artwork is represented in this collection through photographs, as well as a few of his sketches. This collection was an absolute delight to process, and I look forward to researchers using it. I’ll leave you with one final photo from the collection: a picture of Pusey’s friend Christian Petersen sculpting Pusey’s bust, which resides in the Christian Petersen Art Museum at Iowa State University.

Peterson Bust

A photograph from a scrapbook that shows Christian Petersen sculpting the bust of John Pusey, taken in 1934.

 

 


Behind the Scenes: Processing the Butter Cow Lady’s Papers

About 4 months ago, my colleague Brad posted about an exciting new collection that was donated to SCUA – the papers of Norma Lyons, aka the Butter Cow Lady. You might have also noticed that this collection isn’t listed on our website or available for research yet – why is that?  There is a lot that happens behind the scenes before a collection can be used by researchers, which I hope to shed some light on here.

After a collection is donated, I spend some time getting to know it by looking through the actual collection as well as any paperwork the donor has filled out. Some of the things I’m looking for are as follows:

  • any unique formats that require extra attention or special supplies (like scrapbooks or really large posters)
  • anything that isn’t in very good condition and might need immediate attention (like a book with the cover coming off)
  • whether or not the collection came organized in any way
  • if there’s anything in the collection we might need to restrict access to (like medical or educational records)
  • the overall complexity of the collection

 

Once I feel like I’ve gotten to know the collection, I create what’s called a Processing Plan. This is basically a set of instructions for how the collection should be arranged and all the things we need to do in order to make the collection easy to use by a researcher. I always make sure to get a second opinion on these plans to make sure I’m following the wishes of the donor as well as professional standards. After everyone agrees and approves the plan, the collection is ready for processing.

DSCN6567

This binder labeled “University Years 1946-1950” gives us some idea of the order the donor kept their files in, known as Original Order.

Processing is exactly what it sounds like – taking an unorganized, sometimes unusable thing and making it available for researchers to use easily, which can be very time-consuming. Processing is also when we take materials out of harmful storage conditions and put them into safer housings to preserve them. For example, did you know 3-ring binders eventually degrade and can cause permanent damage to photos, or that rubber bands break down and stick to pages? We make sure to remove things like that.

DSCN6566

This rubber band is stuck to the yellow pamphlet, and has broken off in multiple pieces.

My job doesn’t end with processing though. Once that step is complete, the collection needs to be described so researchers can find it – so I create a finding aid. A finding aid is a guide to the collection with all the information we think a researcher would need. The goal is to make sure anyone looking at it will know what is in the collection and decide whether or not they want to look at it. We follow a lot of different standards to make sure finding aids are consistently done and as easy to use as possible. The finding aid goes through the same review process by co-workers before it’s posted on the SCUA website and ready for use!

This collection isn’t available just yet, but I hope to have it fully processed by the 2018 Iowa State Fair so stay tuned!