There comes a time in every 1,200-pound red aluminum cherry's life when it must leave home.

On Tuesday morning, a worker wearing a reflective construction vest climbed through a hole into the giant cherry of the beloved "Spoonbridge and Cherry" at the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden across from the Walker Art Center. Two other workers, positioned on a crane above, tied a sturdy rope around the cherry, then the man inside quickly unbolted it from its stem.

Then the cherry floated over to a waiting truck bed that will carry it to Fine Art Finishes in New York, a company that specializes in repainting the works of Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, who created the sculpture as a centerpiece for the garden when it opened in 1988.

The cherry should return to Minneapolis around mid-January.

Over the years, the piece has become a symbol of the city. Minneapolis residents Jeanne and Chas Scheiderer stopped Tuesday to watch the cherry being removed — something they weren't used to seeing on their regular morning walks through the garden.

"The cherry will come back," said Jeanne, noting the garden's blue rooster was removed recently to get a new paint job.

As the cherry moved back toward the ground, the crane hovered slightly so Leon Budke of Rocket Construction could wriggle his way out of the hole in the bottom of the cherry.

He's done this once before — in 2009, which was the last time the cherry was sent off to New York for cleaning and repainting.

For Budke, who lives in Fergus Falls, Minn., the journey was a little like a carnival ride as the wind buffeted the cherry.

"It was enjoyable," said Budke. "I am used to it."

When the cherry returns from New York, he'll be back again to help reunite it with the spoon.

"It will come back looking different," he noted.

According to a Walker spokesperson, the new coat of paint will be able to withstand Minnesota weather, UV exposure and six months of immersion.

It will remain firmly in place for another 10 years or so before the cycle is repeated.