An undue paint job

Jam of the week: “Hazy Field People” by Black Moth Super Rainbow

Despite living in Iowa for several years prior, last year marked my first visit to the Iowa State Fair. Going to one of the largest state fairs in the country was, of course, a fun and unique experience.

My girlfriend and her family were my Iowa State Fair sherpas, guiding me through the vast, hot landscape of livestock, entertainment and food items that probably still haven’t fully digested after a year. Though visiting many of the 4-H exhibits, watching live music and wandering the vendor halls, it was an overall fun experience. I don’t know if I’ll have the chance to make it back this year, but I still remember the first time I met the famed butter cow sculpture.

The group and I wandered into the large main building where the butter cow was housed. Of course, I was told about the butter cow beforehand. I was interested in such a unique art medium, but didn’t know the seriousness that awaited me. For many of the sculptures I’ve seen, such as the ones still at West Twin Park here in Webster City, they’ve been something that most people take a quick look at and pass by.

David Boelter, the sculpture contest judge I spoke to at the Art in Boone River Country Sculpture Contest, told me that most people look at a piece of art for about seven seconds total. I certainly don’t feel like that’s an adequate amount of time to absorb most artwork a person would encounter. However, I did not expect to see the long line that awaited me to see the butter cow.

The line, which stretched on far enough for about a 10 minute wait to see the butter cow, was fascinating in and of itself. When I saw it, I tried to pull my girlfriend up near the front of the line so I could get a decent, if not slightly farther away view of the sculpture. I was quickly repreimended and taken to the back of the line. Apparently, you don’t mess with a tradition that’s began in 1911.

I’m sure most of you reading have seen the butter cow, so I won’t go into detail about the intricate carvings and thoughts on how much time the piece must have taken. However, it was that line to be the closest person to the cow, the photos I saw people taking with the cow and the legitimate excitement for such an odd piece of art that stuck with me. I really didn’t understand how important the butter cow is to the fair until I saw not the cow itself, but how people waited and reacted to the cow itself. It’s one of those things I suppose you just have to experience to get it. Waiting in line to see the cow made me feel like an Iowan.

So, when news broke that the butter cow was defaced with red paint over the weekend, I was confused. The group, Iowans for Animal Liberation, hid inside the Agriculture Building on Saturday night, broke into the room where the butter cow is displayed, and covered much of the cow in red paint. The words “Freedom For All” were hastily scrawled across the front glass of the display. The red paint, according to the group, represents the blood of animals killed for food purposes. The vandalism was quickly cleaned up before the fair reopened on Sunday by simply scraping off the areas covered in paint.

Determining how successful this act of civil disobedience, vandalism, protest, whatever you might call it, depends on what the group was aiming to do. If they were hoping to get people talking about their group, I suppose they succeeded. If they were trying to convince people that there is truth to their message that veganism is an alternative to eating meat, that the livestock industry is wrong and causes undue misery, they certainly failed.

Not only was the vandalism quickly cleaned up, but most of the discussions I’ve heard about the incident include people joking that they’ll eat an extra burger tonight just for the protesters. Of course, that’s simply what I’ve heard. This nonviolent but certainly uncivil act of protest will, in my eyes, only reinforce the beliefs of those who oppose their ideals.

And, lets be honest here, how can you call your group Iowans when you disrespect the butter cow?