SPRINGFIELD — Always had a hankering to see a cow wearing a hard hat?
Your wait is over.
The butter cow for the 2019 Illinois State Fair made its official debut Wednesday, a sculpture in dairy that reflects the fair's "Building Our Future" theme.
The construction cow motif started with the hard hat on the cow's head and carried through to the ground, where the cow was surrounded by cones that are often seen around construction projects. The 800 pounds of recycled butter was also used to sculpt the word "Future" with a hammer sticking out of the top of the F.
"The butter cow is representative of something important that we are doing in the state of Illinois. It's rebuilding our state," said Gov. JB Pritzker. "We've investing, of course, in our roads and our bridges and our infrastructure. We're rebuilding everything that's great about the state of Illinois, and it's represented in the sculpture of the butter cow."
Pritzker was referring to the $45 billion capital bill approved by lawmakers during the spring session. While the idea of spending money on public works projects is popular, there was grumbling about the taxes and fees raised to pay for it, particularly doubling the state gasoline tax.
Hidden within the sculpture are nine hearts that represent the nine essential nutrients contained in dairy products. Agriculture Director John Sullivan said the butter cow has been a tradition at the fair for nearly 100 years.
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The cow was again sculpted by Sarah Pratt of Iowa, who has sculpted cows and other likenesses across the Midwest since 2006. Fair officials said it took her five days to make the Illinois sculpture, working in a display case kept at a chilly 35 degrees. Pratt was not in attendance at the unveiling.
The theme for the sculpture is chosen by state fair officials, but it is up to Pratt to convey that theme in the sculpture. Some social media commenters have said the Illinois butter cow is not as elaborate at dairy sculptures in some other states. In Ohio, for example, the butter sculpture incorporated astronauts with cows that apparently jumped over the moon to commemorate the moon landing.
Sullivan said he's just fine with the Illinois sculptures.
"We kind of like our tradition here. It keeps the focus on agriculture, which is what the fair was originally designed for," Sullivan said. "We can get dairy and cows involved in a sculpture like that, I think it's a positive thing. The only complaint I've heard is from the hog guys. They'd like some pigs in there once in a while."
The butter cow is located, appropriately enough, in the Dairy Building on the fairgrounds. In addition to the butter cow, the building this year will feature a kiosk where people can take a "dairy-themed selfie" that involves taking a picture in front of a plastic cow. And those who can't make it to the fair can see the butter cow via a live butter cow web cam.
Also Wednesday, Pritzker signed legislation renaming Ethnic Village the "Village of Cultures." The bill's sponsor, Rep. Theresa Mah, D-Chicago, said the idea was recommended by a constituent who thought the new name was more inclusive.