Cherry returns to Spoonbridge; inside its months-long restoration story

As the classic song says: “Reunited, and it feels so good.”

Minneapolis’s iconic cherry — of “Spoonbridge and Cherry” fame — is back home again in the sculpture garden.

“It was really exciting, it was really fun to watch,” smiles Deirdre Manion-Fischer, from St. Paul. “We were filming it and I had to step back and actually just like watch it. I don’t know, it’s like a unique experience, right?”

On a snowy Friday, several dozen people showed up to see a bit of urban art history being made.

Photojournalists were there, of course, along with many people with their phones held high. 

“Yeah, it’s definitely neat, it’s cool,” says Derek Rydberg, a rigging foreman with Rocket Crane Service, Inc. “You travel around the country and you see the cherry and the spoon plastered all over the place, so it’s neat to be part of moving it and part of the history of it.”

After a three-month absence, crew members reconnected the cherry to its spoonbridge partner — following a much-needed makeover. 

“Anytime you’re moving what is seen by some to be an icon of Minneapolis, it’s nerve-wracking,” declares Joe King, the director of collections and exhibition management at Walker Art Center.

“Spoonbridge and Cherry” was first unveiled in 1988.

Since then, the two-part pop sculpture, created by Claes Oldenburg and his wife Coosje van Bruggen, has become a symbol of Minneapolis — and a selfie favorite on social media. 

Walker officials say the cherry was last taken down for restoration in 2009.

King says after exposure to decades of extreme weather, Walker officials decided last November to arrange some cherry maintenance. 

“It’s subjected to temperature swings of about 120 degrees over the course of a calendar year,” he explains. “You know, there’s no tree or any shade over it, so it’s constantly blasted by rays from the sun. And then, to make it harsher or more harsh, it’s submerged in water for eight months a year, when that fountain is running.”

King says if the paint on outdoor artwork lasts five-to-10 years, staffers are pretty happy.

In this case, he says, Walker picked Fine Art Finishes in Peekskill, New York, to do the restoring, because of their expertise.

“Specifically for painting works of art, for sculpture, which is kind of an art in of itself, right?” King notes. “There’s no two that are exactly the same. So they’re inventing and coming up with new techniques all the time.”

But first, it was up to a crew from Rocket Crane to disconnect the spoon from the 1,200-pound aluminum cherry — the two pieces bolted together.  

“It was an experience getting inside of it and seeing it, and actually unhooking it from the spoon,” recalls Leon Budke, a rigger who’s now retired from the company.

Budke — who shot a selfie video from inside the cherry in November — says it was his job to unscrew about a dozen one-inch bolts and disconnect waterlines to the cherry’s stem.
   
“As I got down to the last couple of nuts, you could see the crane was picking up too much or not enough,” he says. “So, so I’d be talking to the radio operator out there and letting it do a little lower, little bit until we got it right.”

It was a delicate maneuver involving a lot of weight.

“You play scenarios in your head at what might happen and might not happen, and it was quite windy,” King remembers. “So I was wondering, is that going to create some sort of catapult?”

But crew members were able to safely lower the cherry into a specially designed Styrofoam nest for the next step in the process: a 1200 mile journey by truck to New York, where it would be cleaned, sanded, and repainted. 

“It was definitely in need of refurbishing,” says Alex Obney, with Fine Art Finishes, who spoke with 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS on a zoom call. 

He adds UV damage and mineral deposits from the stem fountain had taken their toll.
 
“Oxidized pretty well,” Obney says. “It had pretty much lost any sheen it had to it, it was basically almost a matte.”

Obney says he used an air-filtered room that keeps out dust and moisture to first clean, and then spray paint the cherry and its stem.

He says he applied five-to-six coats, including a custom shade of red, plus a clear coat.

The entire process took 11 weeks.  

“It’s not just a paint job for us, it is an artwork and the artists are very specific in color and sheen level and we really focus on that when we’re doing these pieces,” Obney says. “It’s not just to go in and repaint something.”

“After they finish painting it, we want it to sit for at least seven days to let that paint cure and get good and hard before we transport it across the country,” King adds.

The job done, the cherry, hidden by tarps, arrived at Rocket Crane’s shop in New Hope this week.

By Friday morning, crew members were setting up for the reinstallation process — the exact reverse of what they had done in November. 

Knowing this time, they were working with a cherry in perfect condition, with a brand new look.
   
“You can’t rush it, you’ve got to double-check everything you do,” Rydberg says. “There’s no room for error. It’s got to be right and perfect the first time.”

Despite a brief snowfall, the reattachment went smoothly.

“Just to be a part of something that huge for so many people, that important — feel pretty privileged to do that,” Budke notes.

King says he hopes the new paint job will be able to weather the elements for a decade or more.

He says the museum has an archive with the original colors from 1988, so they can have an exact match for repainting.

The Walker isn’t sharing the cost of the cherry makeover; King will only say it was “expensive.”

But he does say the museum has an endowment fund that was started 30 years ago to keep the cherry looking its best.

Obney says he’s just glad he was able to help.

“It’s a great honor,” he says. “It’s a great piece. It’s really an amazing piece.”

On this chilly, windy February night, Minneapolis has its cherry back again — with a new high-pro glow.

“It looks beautiful,” Manion-Fischer says. “I was noticing like the reflections off of it like you see the shadows and yeah, it looks a lot better. It looks great.”