More than 500 pounds of clay and three generations of hometown pride have molded the life-size bear taking shape in sculptor Alan Hamwi's home studio.
As he meticulously texturizes every tuft of fur on the 8-foot-long sculpture, the Upper Arlington native envisions generations of city residents someday posing for photos with the finished product.
Early next year, the clay will be used to cast a bronze statue.
The mother "Golden Bear" and two smaller cub statues will be permanently displayed in Northam Park's planned Centennial Plaza, the centerpiece attraction for Upper Arlington's centennial celebration in 2018. The piece will be dedicated at the city's Fourth of July celebration.
The Golden Bear is Upper Arlington High School's mascot.
"It's really an honor to have the opportunity to leave a lasting legacy in Upper Arlington, especially for my parents and my kids," Hamwi said.
By mid-January, he should be finished shaping the malleable clay around its plastic foam base. The clay sculpture then will be used to create a mold by surrounding it with silicone rubber.
That mold will be divided into 20 or 30 pieces and transported to Sanford, Florida, where the bronze will be poured into it at American Bronze Foundry.
Finally, Hamwi will bring the bronze pieces back to Upper Arlington, where they'll be welded into a climbable, 3-foot-tall statue.
Hamwi, 62, has been sculpting since he was a teenager and majored in sculpture at Antioch University. Many of his statues are on display throughout central Ohio, including Harold Cooper and baseball gear at Huntington Park and animals at the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.
His favorite project is whatever one he's currently working on, he said.
In this case, that's especially true.
Hamwi's parents settled in Upper Arlington in the 1950s. He spent most of his life in the city, raising his children, sculpting in a home studio and commuting to Columbus, where he worked as a firefighter and paramedic.
He recently moved into a home and studio on Columbus' Northwest Side.
His passion is working with bronze because of its history and permanence. Even today, watching the molten metal makes him as excited as the first time he witnessed a bronze pour as a college student.
"It was alchemy, as far as I was concerned," he said.
Rich Simpson, chairman of the Upper Arlington centennial celebration committee, said the Centennial Plaza will be located on the western edge of Northam Park and will include a landscaped "history walk" and a seating area.
The $300,000 project will be funded mostly through donations. The city did not break out the cost of the sculpture alone.
Other centennial items include street banners throughout the city, a history book created by the Upper Arlington Historical Society and a specially commissioned craft beer that will be tapped in February at city bars.
The committee selected Hamwi for its public art project because of his community roots, passion and the exceptional quality of his work, Simpson said.
"This will become, we hope, one of the central community gathering places in Upper Arlington and continue to be that way for many years," he said.
"This isn't just a centennial year project, it's a long-term, forever project."