Georgian College Fine Arts student Aylan Couchie had a clear artistic concept in mind when she hopped into a cooler at Royal Agricultural Winter Fair last week for the annual butter sculpting competition.
Her idea – sculpting a life-size Belgian hare – was a real crowd pleaser. She was named grand champion of the competition.
Taking part in the annual butter sculpting contest for the second year in a row, Couchie took for inspiration the fancy rabbits and hares on show at the Royal, the country’s most prestigious agricultural showcase.
Armed with a sketch of one of the magnificent little creatures, she spent almost 12 hours in the cooler on Wednesday, Nov. 6, creating her lifelike hare. She was competing against other fine arts students from Georgian, the Ontario College of Art and Design and Sheridan College. Contestants were given the theme of “Farm Fresh Fun”, 150 kilograms of chilled butter, and 12 hours in which to create a masterpiece.
Couchie’ s grand championship win was a “people’s choice” award, with fair visitors voting heavily for her work of art. A panel of judges also awarded her second place in the juried portion of the competition. As grand champion, Couchie was invited to return on Saturday, Nov. 9 to create a second sculpture.
“Because bunnies multiply so quickly, I decided to sculpt another hare that would be looking at the first one,” she said.
Again, the painstaking job took almost 12 hours. But this time it was livened up by the appearance of comedian Rick Mercer who was filming a visit to the Royal for an upcoming broadcast of his television show The Rick Mercer Report.
Couchie not only showed Mercer her bunny sculptures, but also helped him to construct a butter-based model of the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa.
“That,” she says, “was an awful lot of fun.”
She was amazed to find a huge line-up of spectators eager to see her at work, using such an unusual material as butter. The competition originated decades ago as a method for Canadian dairy producers to promote butter. It has endured as a playful event that demonstrates the artistic abilities of some of Canada’s most talented fine arts students. Couchie is in her second year of her three-year program.
Couchie says while the event is a lot of fun, it is also a lot of work, and results in actual art. No matter what the medium, sculpture is sculpture, she says.
Two of the most difficult elements she had to deal with were the cold, and the slippery nature of the butter.
“I learned from last year that my usual plastic tools would just snap in the cold and in the hard butter, so I was prepared this year with steel tools that worked just fine,” she said. “But no matter how careful you are, toward the end of the day you find your fingers, face and hair smeared with butter.”
The end result though, really was a work of art. Unfortunately, being made of butter, her hares existed only until the end of the fair on Nov. 10. However, Couchie unveils another of her works, a stylized Aboriginal sweat lodge installation, at the Georgian College Barrie Campus Gallery for one day only, on Wednesday, Nov. 13.
Georgian’s Fine Arts programs, available in a two or three-year option, allow students to explore a wide variety of artistic pursuits, including sculpture, painting and printmaking. In addition to a strong focus on studio work, the program provides practical instruction on business and professional practices for operating in the professional fine arts world.