Honesty walked right out the door of Normandale Community College on Tuesday night and hasn't been seen since. Muddy footprints and a trail of rolled-up dollar bills hint that a getaway car may have been parked in front of the Fine Arts building, but officials at the Bloomington school are baffled.

"Honesty" is, or was, a wire-mesh sculpture by John Ilg in which 316 rolled-up dollar bills were stuffed into the mesh to spell out the word "Honesty." It had hung in the college gallery since Nov. 9 with other works by Ilg. When it was first shown at the Minnesota State Fair in 2008, visitors liked the sculpture so much they added $150 to the piece. It has been exhibited unharmed several times since.

"People like to tug on the bills to see if they're glued in and if I'm really trusting them," said Ilg, 53, of Woodbury. He can tell when the bills have been tampered with because he rolls and folds them so the words "In God We Trust" are visible. Additions or replacements aren't rolled that way.

A student reported the theft to campus security about 8:30 p.m. Tuesday. Two security officers followed footprints to the parking lot where another student found two rolled bills in an entrance parking spot. The officers retrieved a total of seven bills from the gallery and environs. Security cameras had no record of the crime and there are no suspects.

"It was a wonderful piece that really spurred a lot of discussion," said Jeff Judge, Normandale's dean of humanities whose office adjoins the gallery.

Asked what the theft suggested about the college, he said, "I don't think it says anything about Normandale, but it says a whole lot about the person who took it. I'm holding out hope that the person was not in any way connected with Normandale."

Ilg may recreate the piece. "All you can do is laugh," he said.

Mary Abbe • 612-673-4431