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SIOUX CITY -- Following an unexpected trip around Iowa, the "Goddess of the Grapes" is finally coming home.

Specifically, the 18-inch, bronze statue, missing for nearly two years, will be retrieved by Art Center curator Todd Behrens on Friday. 

Made by Minnesota-based artist Deb Zeller and owned by Sculpt Siouxland, the "Goddess of the Grapes" was stolen from its permanent home in the 500 block of Fourth Street in June 2017.

"When we install outdoor sculpture, they're meant to stay in place," Behrens said. "Downtown sculptures have been vandalized in the past, but I don't think any other statue had ever been stolen."

He speculated "Goddess of the Grapes," valued at between $3,000 and $5,000, was targeted due to its small size and weakness of its base.

Ironically, the statue -- which was originally installed in 2010 -- had also gone missing in September 2015. However, it turned up a few days later, sitting on a bench near the entrance of the Art Center.

This time, its whereabouts was a complete mystery.

That is, until the sculpture was noticed by a Waterloo, Iowa, woman who was visiting a friend in Des Moines, around Christmas 2018.

According to Nicholas Erickson, registrar for the Waterloo-based Grout Museum District, the woman noticed the statue in her friend's garage. The woman admired it, asking if she could have it.

The friend said he suspected the statue had been stolen and it had been left in the garage by someone that he knew. 

Using the maker's mark that disclosed the artist's name, the woman did an Internet search and confirmed it had been stolen.

The woman asked her friend if she could have the statue in order to return it. Her friend said as long as he could remain anonymous, it was fine by him.

Erickson said the woman conferred with her old art professor, Robert Lipnick at Eastern Iowa Community College, who told her to bring it to the Grout.

Erickson then contacted Behrens. 

"I'm glad I was sitting when I got the call that the Goddess had been found, safe and sound," Behrens said. "It totally floored me that she was coming back after all this time."

As luck would have it, Behrens was already going to Waterloo on unrelated business.

"I figured I'll just pick her up on my way out of town," he said.

Only when the "Goddess of the Grapes" makes her grand return to Sioux City, it will be in a much more secure place.

"We don't know where the 'Goddess' will be displayed," Behrens said. "All I know is we're not going to take any chances of her turning missing ever again.

"As far as I'm concerned, her traveling days are over," he added with a laugh. 

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