After Months of Searching, a Sculpture Stolen From a North Dakota Art Museum Has Turned Up—Next to a Casino Dumpster

The lucky pair who accidentally discovered the sculpture were given a $1,000 reward by the grateful museum.

Dumpster standing in front of a wall with graffiti. Photo: Horst Galuschka/picture alliance via Getty Images.

A sculpture that was stolen from the North Dakota Museum of Art seven months ago was found next to a dumpster at the nearby Southgate Casino, Bar and Grill. Luckily for the two people who spotted the work, the museum had offered $1,000 for its safe return.

The disc-shaped Garden Wheel by artist Elizabeth MacDonald is made of ceramic tiles and had been installed in the museum’s sculpture garden since 1998. A GoFundMe page aiming to raise $10,000 to replace the work, described it as “part of the public identity of the museum.” The campaign was launched after an extensive but fruitless search, which even saw the Grand Forks Sheriffs’ Department scan the English Coulee, a nearby natural waterway.

The work was stolen on October 31 last year and the police were notified of its whereabouts on May 25. Who took it and what happened to the sculpture in between these two dates remains a mystery, according to the Grand Forks Herald. The museum and the police have both said that they are not planning to investigate the incident any further.

“It was a shock for everyone, I think, that it came back,” the museum’s director Matthew Wallace told the Herald. “We really just don’t know what happened to it, or where it’s been. We’re just happy that it’s back and can be repaired.”

After a renovation in 2022, the wheel had been given pride of place in the garden’s most prominent location. It appears that the thieves got to it just in time, as the wheel is taken inside each autumn and reinstalled in the spring to keep it safe from the winter elements.

Despite the wheel’s fragility, it was found in relatively good condition with only around six tiles broken. It will only need minor repairs before heading back on public display, and it is hoped that MacDonald might still have some of the original tiles, which would otherwise have to be color-matched and remade.

These quick fixes should be covered in part by the $775 that was raised on GoFundMe. The campaign page also promised that the museum is working to install new security cameras and make the sculpture “more difficult to steal.”


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