Norma Lyon

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Norma Duffield Stong "Duffy" Lyon (July 29, 1929 – June 26, 2011) was an American farmer and artist nicknamed The Butter Cow Lady. She was known for creating elaborate butter sculptures at the Iowa State Fair from 1960 until 2006, when she retired.[1] She also created sculptures for other state fairs, as well as commissioned works for celebrities and politicians.

Early years[edit]

Lyon was born in Nashville, Tennessee on July 29, 1929, the daughter of Benton J. Stong, a newspaper reporter, and his wife, Elsa. Her grandmother, Bertha Clark, was a founder of the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra, and her uncle, Phil Stong, wrote the book State Fair, which was later made into three movies and a stage musical.[2]

She studied animal science at Iowa State University, because they did not allow women in their Veterinary Sciences program at the time.[3] There she trained in sculpture with artist Christian Petersen.[4]


She married Gaylord "Joe" Lyon on July 22, 1950 in Ames, Iowa, and they moved to Toledo, Iowa, to run their dairy farm, Lyon Jerseys.[5] The couple had nine children.[4]


In 1960, she took over the Iowa State Fair butter cow creation, a tradition since 1911. She later expanded to creating other sculptures, including Garth Brooks, Elvis Presley, John Wayne, Peanuts characters, a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, American Gothic by Grant Wood and the Last Supper.[6] She also made busts of Katie Couric, Matt Lauer, Barack Obama and a cheese bust of David Letterman.

Lyon appeared on To Tell the Truth in 1963, and was correctly identified as the Butter Cow Lady by two of the panelists, Kitty Carlisle and Tom Poston.[2][7] She later appeared on Late Night with David Letterman with a cow carved from cheese.[7] She was the subject of a 2002 book, The Butter Cow Lady, written by Brenda Mickle.[8]


On June 26, 2011, she died of a stroke in Marshalltown, Iowa, age 81.[2] She was survived by a large extended family, including her husband, nine children, 23 grandchildren, and five great-grandchildren.


  1. ^ Shapiro, T. Rees (June 27, 2011). "Butter sculptor Norma 'Duffy' Lyon’s bovine creations drew millions to Iowa State Fair". Washington Post
  2. ^ a b c Vitello, Paul (June 27, 2011). "Norma (Duffy) Lyon, the 'Butter-Cow Lady', Dies at 81". New York Times. p. A 24. Retrieved June 28, 2011. 
  3. ^ Longden, Tom (December 25, 2004). Lyon, 'Duffy'. Des Moines Register
  4. ^ a b Borcherding, James R. (March 1997). "A Lyon family legacy: Classy kids, fine cows". Successful Farming. pp. 54–56. 
  5. ^ Green, B. (1998). The butter cow lady: the story of Norma "Duffy" Lyon. onTarget Pub. ASIN B0006FBQSE
  6. ^ Huffstutter, P.J. (June 27, 2011). "Norma 'Duffy' Lyon, queen of the butter cow sculptors, dies at 81." Los Angeles Times
  7. ^ a b Holman, Rhonda (September 11, 1990). "Her Touch Turns Butter to Sculpture". Wichita Eagle. p. 1C. 
  8. ^ Kenyon, John (August 9, 2002). "Better with butter – Riverside woman's book tells story of fair's cow sculptor". The Gazette. p. B1. 


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