It is a must-see at the Missouri State Fair that “udderly” delights young and old alike. Thousands are drawn to the Gerken Dairy Center each year to check on the antics of Bessie the Butter Cow. From being mindful of a bee perched on her nose to learning how to drive, Bessie is known for captivating audiences.

This year is no exception. In fact, it is something to celebrate as Bessie “Parties ‘Til the Cows Come Home.” As the Gerken Dairy Center celebrates its 20th Anniversary Bessie is having a party and all are invited to attend.  

Sculpted by potter Tracy Adams, the one-of-a-kind creations are works of art and engineering.  

Adams begins with a drawing that comes to life in a labor-intensive process.

“I use a wooden armature on the inside of the cow to help support the weight of the butter,” Adams explained. “So after I make the drawing I draw up a pattern for an armature and use it to make a scaled-down version. I then use modeling clay to make sure the wooden armature is going to work for the larger cow.”

This part of the process usually takes a week. Adams then adjusts the pattern and enlarges it for the full-size cow. 

“That is when Mark, my husband, steps in and we build the full-size armature,” Adams said. “We then wrap the wooden frame in metal screen to help keep the butter in place. This year we also did an armature for the cake and sign, but only used butter for the presents.”

Building the wooden frames takes between two to four days. Then comes the butter. Typically, Adams uses about 600 pounds of butter but when Bessie is celebrating a milestone the amount of butter needed increases. This year Adams estimates she used 700 to 750 pounds to create Bessie, her giant cake, presents and decorations.

Joined by her son, Kc, and husband, Mark, the three meet at the Gerken Dairy Center and start applying butter to the frame.

“We come in in the afternoon and move a good portion of the butter out of the freezer to let it soften some overnight because it is normally frozen solid,” Adams said. “It then takes us three to four days to apply and to sculpt it into the finished product.”

Adams said she is a potter and tends to use pottery tools to create the sculptures because that is what she has and is familiar with. She added this year she also used a cake decorating kit.

“As for inspiration I look to the cows themselves,” Adams said smiling. “They are very funny. The situations they get themselves into is quite amazing.”

Adams has been creating pottery for more than 35 years and she consigns her work at Peter Engler’s Designs in Branson. Her work is also found at the Branson Craft Mall, Silver Dollar City and during the fall festival at War Eagle in Arkansas.

“Because of the War Eagle show I do not get to attend the fair,” Adams explained. “As soon as the cow is done I go immediately into production for it (War Eagle) as well as maintaining the two locations in Branson. 

“Kc joined me in my business in 2016, but keeping up with everything keeps us really busy,” she added. “We talk every year about going and are going to try really hard to get there this year.”

With any luck, Adams and her family will make it to Bessie’s birthday.

“Most of what I do with my everyday work is functional, mugs, casseroles, bowl, etc.,” Adams said. “In addition working with Mark and Kc is an awesome dynamic. They really help with bringing the vision to life.

“Sculpting the cow gives me a chance to flex my artistic skills,” Adam added. “It also works all parts of my brain to get to the end result and I love that.”

Education Reporter

Hope Lecchi is the education reporter for the Democrat, covering all things education in Sedalia and Pettis County, as well as providing general assignment and feature coverage. She can be reached at 660-530-0144.

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