The Minnesota State Fair's Golden Guernseys are looking a little worn out these days.
Jutting from a billboard on the edge of the swine barn, the cows' larger-than-life profiles have graced the fairgrounds for more than three decades. But it's time for a face-lift for the bovine beauties, whose 3-D forms once served as a catchy marketing tool for Ewald Bros. Dairy.
William Ewald, a fourth-generation descendant of the founder of the now-defunct dairy company, is launching a $55,000 fundraising effort to restore the billboard, which was built in 1954 to promote the butter-colored milk unique to the Guernsey breed.
"These cows bring back happy memories for people," said Ewald, whose great-grandfather started a milk delivery business in 1886 with a wagon and a couple of horses. "It doesn't matter when you go by, you see people standing underneath it to get selfies."
Ewald Bros. produced its last bottle of milk in 1982. When the Golden Valley plant was demolished the following year, the State Fair bought the billboard for $3,000.
Even then, the sign was rich in history. Built in an airplane hangar by the late outdoor sign artist Bob Johnson, the billboard went up across the street from the Ewald Bros. Dairy, where it became a landmark. The faces, featuring a bull and a cow, are enormous — measuring 10 feet from muzzle to head. The horns stretch 12 feet across from tip to tip.
Ewald Bros. placed additional billboards of various sizes in downtown Minneapolis and along major byways in Excelsior and St. Louis Park. Smaller reproductions went up in grocery stores.
But Minnesota winters have not been kind to the State Fair's Guernseys, which have moved to several locations in the years since they arrived via flatbed trailer. The fiberglass is chipped and fading. The wooden structure, though it has been shored up, needs substantial rebuilding and painting. All vestiges of the Ewald Bros. Dairy name have been painted over to promote the fair's 12-day run.
The nonprofit State Fair Foundation is working with the Ewald family to raise money for restoration, which officials say aligns with its mission to preserve and improve the historical legacy of the fairgrounds.
The fair hopes to find a new home for the sign, which now faces Como Avenue, and to lower it to improve photo opportunities. If the fundraising comes together in the next few months as hoped, the billboard will get spiffed up during the winter and spring and be back in place before the fair comes to life next August.
"What we really want to do is make it more visible … so fairgoers can enjoy it and treat is as part of their State Fair experience," said Cynthia Cashman, executive director of the State Fair Foundation.
Driven by Ewald's enthusiasm as family historian, the fundraising has gained early support from high-profile backers, including the two sons of outdoor advertiser Robert Naegele. Ewald declined to make the amount of their contributions public.
Robert Naegele and Ewald's grandfather, Ray, who also ran the family dairy company, were childhood friends. Ewald Bros. commissioned Naegele for his first ad, according to the Ewald family. And it was Naegele's company that created the 3-D signs.
Minneapolis craft brewer Utepils has joined the effort as well. The brewery, which opened in the Harrison neighborhood in February, has its own ties to the Ewald name. It is located on the site of the former Glenwood Inglewood Water Co., where drivers for Ewald Bros. once traveled by horse and wagon to cart away blocks of ice wrapped in burlap to keep its milk cool.
"We're ready to jump on the project as soon as the State Fair says they want to go," said Utepils founder and President Dan Justesen, whose father and brother-in-law drove trucks for Ewald Bros.
Justesen, who gave his master brewer the nickname "Ewald" in the early days of the business, has added the moniker to several beers, including the ever-popular "Ewald Golden," which was one of the five original brews.
Utepils — which in Norwegian roughly means "a beer enjoyed outside" — is willing to craft a beer for the cause or to find other creative ways to raise money, including tapping its 50 investors.
The brewery also hosted a book signing for Ewald, who recently published a book on the history of the dairy.
"We love the connection," Justesen said. "It's good for us, good to get the sign into a more prominent spot where people can see it, and it's good for the State Fair."
Ewald hopes his goal to bring back a piece of Minnesota history will also create memories for a new generation of fairgoers.
"The whole purpose," he said, "is to build a collaborative effort to restore a Twin Cities landmark that stood watch over the Cities for nearly 70 years."