Cow-calf sculptures honor famous Iowa State alumna

Maynard Hogberg standing next to cow/calf sculpture at the Iowa State Fair.
Maynard Hogberg, professor emeritus of animal science, stands next to the cow-calf sculpture outside the John Deere Agricultural Building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds. Hogberg played a key role in getting this sculpture, as well as two others just like it, replicated in honor of sculptor Norma "Duffy" Lyon.

By Whitney Baxter

A decade-long project has succeeded in honoring a famous Iowa State University alumna and the dairy industry she supported.

Earlier this summer, three bronze cow-calf sculptures were installed at Iowa State University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, the Iowa State Fair and in Toledo, Iowa. The sculptures are replicas of the original one, created by Norma “Duffy” Lyon, which has been on display since 1991 atop a hill overlooking the Highway 63 and Business Highway 30 intersection in Toledo.

Lyon graduated from Iowa State with an animal science degree in 1951. She and her husband, Joe, were well-known in the dairy industry, especially for their Jersey cows. Many also know Lyon as the “butter cow lady,” a name she gained after years of sculpting life-sized cows out of butter to display each year at the Iowa State Fair.

The project to replace the cow-calf sculpture in Toledo began about 10 years ago, when the fiberglass sculpture began showing signs of natural weathering. Maynard Hogberg, professor emeritus of animal science, played a key role in the replication process, using experience gained from Lyon’s first piece of art installed at Iowa State.

In the mid-2000’s, when plans were underway to construct and open the new ISU Dairy Farm south of campus, Lyon and her grandson sculpted out of clay what is known as the “Jersey Jewell,” a life-sized Jersey cow that sits outside the entrance of the dairy facility.

 "Celebrating the Iowa State Fair Butter Cow" with information about sculptor Norma "Duffy" Lyon.
Plaques have been installed by each of the three cow-calf sculptures, telling about the artist, Norma "Duffy" Lyon, who created them.

At the time, Hogberg was chair of the Department of Animal Science and had gotten to know Lyon quite well. Working with Lynette Pohlman, director of University Museums, they had the Jersey Jewell cast in bronze by a New York facility to preserve Lyon’s work of art.

“She studied under artist Christian Petersen while she was a student at Iowa State, and we wanted to have one of her pieces on campus,” Hogberg said of Lyon. “Her art is very precise and accurate. She had a great eye for seeing the details in everything she created.”

For the replication of the cow-calf sculpture to become a reality, a mold of the original sculpture needed to be made, then three copies of that mold be cast in bronze by a company in Kalona, Iowa. Hogberg, the Lyon family, the City of Toledo, the Iowa State Fair Blue Ribbon Foundation and other donors raised the money needed during the past couple of years to make this process possible.

Now that the new sculptures have been installed, landscaping will be done and plaques put on display that tell about the sculpture and its artist. A dedication of Iowa State’s sculpture took place Aug. 10.

When asked how he’d think Lyon would react if she could see the new sculptures on display, Hogberg said she’d be “beaming.”

“She was a major force in the dairy industry and giving her recognition at Iowa State and at the Iowa State Fair with these sculptures is fitting,” he said.

Where to see the sculptures:

  • Outside the Vet Med Field Services Building at Iowa State’s College of Veterinary Medicine, 1712 S. Riverside Dr., Ames
  • On the west side of the John Deere Agricultural Building at the Iowa State Fairgrounds, 3000 E. Grand Ave., Des Moines
  • On the northwest corner of the Highway 63 and Business Highway 30 intersection in Toledo, Iowa