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SALT LAKE CITY -- Maria Bardini carefully chisels, chops and hammers away at a 14-ton, six by six by eight foot piece of red sandstone. A huge bear is beginning to emerge from the rock now placed in front of Salt Lake Community College's student center.
"It's called calling the rock. You just go like this; you chisel a little a few times, then a big one - whop! And the whole thing comes off. The bear is there. I can see it," she said.
Bardini is originally from Mexico. She and her husband had a successful glass-blowing business, but when he passed away she was left to take care of her children, and only given housecleaning jobs. So she went back to school -- and discovered a talent for sculpture.
She graduated first from SLCC with honors while working there full-time, and then got a bachelor's degree from the University of Utah in fine arts with a specialty in sculpture and ceramics. In 2006 she won a special Nola Pardi scholarship to learn from artisans a sculptural technique called point enlargement.
"It was wonderful," Bardini says. "I went to Italy as an old lady to learn a traditional technique that about five really old guys in Italy know."
Then she won the bid to sculpt the Bruin mascot on SLCC's campus - and she's doing it for free as a way to give back to the school that did so much for her.
"Somebody donated the stone, so I thought it would be nice to donate the work. I saw it as an opportunity to do something, and this is a good opportunity," she said.
Bardini works on the bear a couple of days a week. She's humble about her talent, saying she just hopes to be an example for her four children and 11 grandchildren.
The bear should be finished by commencement next year, and it will stand in the same spot welcoming students to campus.