Winner of Butter Sculpture contest puts horses on a bicycle: Royal Winter Fair

by Katrina Roberto

Nov. 19/09

photo by Katrina Roberto

From kids pressing their face up to the dairy cooler shouting “I want to eat it!” to adults gazing at the fine details of these lardy works of art, there is no doubt butter sculptures continue to fascinate all ages. The butter sculpture competition is one of the oldest and most popular events visitors can check out at the 87th Royal Agricultural Winter Fair.

“I would suggest that its long association with the Fair is a main reason for its continued popularity, people hate change,” said sculptor David Paolini, who also teaches art at St. Elizabeth Catholic High School in Toronto. “The medium butter is so foreign to the discipline yet particular to the farming community.”

To learn more about this unique art form I was sent straight to the source, Harvey Townsend, former coordinator and current judge. Townsend, a skilled sculptor originally from Birmingham, England came to Canada in 1953 where he taught at the Ontario College of Art and Design.  Townsend has spent over 30 years working with butter and judging the competition.

This year’s butter sculpture competition is made up of 12 students, all of whom study art at a post-secondary level. The contestants are given a 25 kilogram block of butter provided by Gay Lea Foods and 10 hours to complete their sculpture.

“You look for the humour and the knowledge that they [the artist] have of the subject,” said Townsend about how to choose a winning sculpture. “It’s sort of a gut instinct about what is good and what is bad.”

For this particular competition the theme was youth and horses.

Tisha Myles, 23, of Central Technical School was named first place winner. Not only was Myles awarded $200 dollars, but she was invited to come sculpt a subject of her choice the Fair’s closing weekend.

Her sculpture titled “Tandem Bikeroo” illustrates a man disguised as a horse riding a bicycle.

The idea arose for Myles after attending a bicycle event last year.

“Being a youth myself I know one of the only things I have in common with everyone else my age is that I bike all the time,” Myles said. “I remember seeing two dudes riding a tandem bike in a horse costume so I thought to myself what could be more perfect then that?”

According to Myles working with butter is much like clay except it gets wetter the more you work it instead of clay which dries out. It took Myles eight hours to complete her piece and the biggest challenge?

Keeping “the whole sculpture from falling apart since it was so top heavy,” she said.

Despite some difficulty Myles’ efforts paid off.

“The overall form with its positive and negative space has an aesthetic appeal,”  Paolini explained. “The use of large general areas [the horse’s head and body] is juxtaposed with areas of minute detail [the arm and leg of the bike rider and the spokes of the wheels].”

This sculpture stood out because it was the only one that created an illusion of movement while standing still.  Sadly, butter is not a stable product and this masterpiece will melt.

So what happens to these huge portions of butter after the competition?

“I would assume they feed it to the butter troll who lives under the Gardiner [expressway],” Myles joked.

“It was never designed for human consumption,” said Sally Andrews of the Agricultural show office. “We try to find people who can use it, re-rendering it into other things.”

The butter can be re-rendered into a non-edible product such as fuel. At the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair, not only can one spread butter on their bread but appreciate it as an art form and a sustainable fuel.