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Minnesota State Fair butter sculptor retiring after 50 years

Linda Christensen was hired in 1971 and has carved more than 550 butter sculptures over the years.

SAINT PAUL, Minn. — No matter how many times you come to the Minnesota State Fair, there's always something new, but there are some things that never change.

For the last 50 years, Linda Christensen has been a familiar face at the Dairy Building, carving princesses out of butter.

“We counted and I’d say I have done about 550 of them over the years,” Linda said.

Linda got the job back in 1971.

She had just graduated from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design and the Midwest Dairy Association needed a new butter sculptor

"I said absolutely, I'd love to,” Christensen said.

But getting started wasn't easy.

"Yep, they don't offer butter sculpting classes at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design,” Christensen laughed.

So, she pretty much taught herself, and now, after 50 years, she is carving her last one.

But the tradition isn’t going away.

Fellow artist Gerry Kulzer is already in the process of taking over as butter sculptor.

“It’s daunting,” Gerry laughed. “She’s a very petite lady, but I have huge shoes to fill.”

Gerry remembers seeing Linda carving butter at the fair several years ago.

He was immediately drawn to the art form and decided to reach out to the Midwest Dairy Association.

“I told them I was interested if they ever needed someone,” Gerry said. “I didn’t hear anything for years. That was maybe 10 or 15 years ago.”

But then the dairy association gave him a call and asked if he would be interested in trying out.

“They set out a 90-pound block of butter and basically held an audition,” Gerry said.

Long story short, Gerry won the part and was asked to start learning from Linda.

In 2019, Gerry shadowed Linda and learned many of her tricks and techniques.

Then the pandemic came along, and instead of sculpting the butter sculptures alongside Linda, Gerry was forced into the role full-time.

“With COVID, Linda couldn’t make it here, because she lives in California,” Gerry said. “It was sort of a ‘trial by fire.’”

This year Gerry is officially taking over.

He’s excited about the opportunity but says keeping up with Linda’s pace will be a challenge.

“She is so fast. We basically have to do one sculpture a day and she’s just boom, boom, boom, they’re done. She is just so fast and so strong. She’s a strong woman,” Gerry said.

"It's an honor, really. I hope I can live up to it.”

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