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Why a symbol of Minneapolis is New York-bound for a new coat of paint

A portion of the iconic Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture is traveling to New York for paint work, leaving some Minnesotans wondering why.

MINNEAPOLIS — Every five to ten years, the advice is to slap a new coat of paint on the house.

Every three to five, paint the rooms, they say.

And every 11-12 years is the prime time to paint the famous cherry that sits on a spoon at the Walker Art Center's sculpture garden.

Once work on the Spoonbridge and Cherry became known this week, inquiring minds produced more than a spoonful of questions.

KARE 11's Jana Shortal turned to Walker Art Center Director of Collections Joe King for answers. He knows the sculpture like he knows his own kids, getting his first gig at the Walker in the 90's.

"My first job was washing sculptures out in the Garden," King said.

So to the one in question: the 12,000 pound cherry that needs a new coat of paint.

"People don't realize the diameter of the cherry is 9 feet so there are very few auto body shops that would be able to handle something like that let alone have a familiarity with this kind of paint system," King explained.

He brings up auto shops to allude to the fact that the cherry isn't getting it's face lift here in Minnesota. It's going on a cross-country covered truck ride to New York, to an enclosed paint studio where it can be suspended by a crane and painted while it dangles in the air.

But Minnesota has red paint; why not get it painted here? 

"It's an interesting question and I think the best answer is we are going to someone who has specific experience working with works by Oldenburg using this paint system and a paint expert in the field," King said.

Fine Art Finishes is the place he says has those experts, and they are in New York.

Part of the paint system is an exact paint match to the 1988 original, which the Walker planned for.

"We keep archival chips in our records of the original paint. Sometimes, over time, the EPA standards change, paint mixtures change, so its important for us to have a physical representation of what that paint color is So that's what we have and that's what it will return as," he said.

So why not just get the painters with the special paint to come to Minnesota and do it outside, while it's already in place?

"That's happened a number of times through the life of the work, but its difficult to get a really good paint job out there. There's airborne contaminants, bugs, access issues so painting it up there is kind of a challenge," King said.

Okay, but this has to be expensive, right?

"It's a lot," King said. "It's expensive."

But the Walker planed for that too; an upkeep endowment fund was started more than 30 years ago.

Credit: Shari Gross, Star Tribune
In a photo furnished by Star Tribune, a work rides inside the cherry portion of the famous Spoonbridge and Cherry sculpture ahead of paint work.

Finally, to the question that this photo (above) by Shari Gross at the Star Tribune begs to be asked: Why in the sweet fruit heck was a man inside the cherry when it was separated from the spoon this week?

"So its really a safety issue," King explained. "He's inside the cherry detaching it from the spoon, there's a number of bolts that need to be removed from inside the cherry. So the choice at that point is to have him ride in it or climb out while the cherry is being suspended by crane, so safest manner is for him to stay in."

The cherry is expected to be back on its spoon, with a new coat of paint, in January.

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