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Like children on Christmas morning, dozens of Lincoln Elementary students held their collective breath Thursday as a canvas wrapping was removed from the biggest gift they had ever seen.

And the fact they were doing the giving rather than the receiving didn't dampen their excitement one bit.When the canvas finally became disentangled and dropped, the kids were momentarily silenced by awe, then jumped up and down, cheered and swarmed over their giant handiwork.

After a year and a half of work, their gift to the community - a 14-foot-high, 2,000-pound bronze sculpture - was in place. Titled "Passageway to Peace," the tripod archway stood anchored in place at Bell Plaza, 250 E. 200 South.

Elaine Harding, resident artist and art program director at Lincoln Elementary, 1090 Roberta Street, said the students designed the sculpture as a reflection of their connection to all the children who inhabited the valley before them.

Harding, who spearheaded the project, said the young artists studied Utah history in depth before embarking on the artwork.

"As they studied the past, they got to know more about themselves," she said. "Through art, they were able to express their hopes, fears and dreams. You can see it in this sculpture."

Harding said the project was a collaborative effort involving 40 young artists along with the support of the Salt Lake School District, US WEST Communications, a Salt Lake County-sponsored Utah Centennial grant and Metal Letters Foundry.

After studying the past and settling on a theme, the students put their thoughts into paper and clay. After they were done, their design was faithfully converted to bronze under the supervision of Harding and Metal Letters fine arts coordinator Nathan Johansen.

Lincoln Principal Sherianne Cotterell said the project was an example of a "wish or dream you set your heart on." The artists drew from their own experiences and their rich ethnic and cultural diversity, and every student contributed something to the sculpture, a name, a face, a flower or some other feature.

Speaking to the large crowd that had gathered in the drizzling rain for the unveiling, Cotterell said, "This is their gift to all of you, from their hearts."

Mark Stromberg, vice-president and CEO of US WEST, whose company is Lincoln's business partner, said, "It has a lot of meaning for everyone involved. It is worth everything that went into it."

After the ceremony, the students posed for a group portrait and defied the photographer's attempts to draw their attention away from the sculpture. When it was all over, third-grader Sam Sorenson sat on one of the anchoring boulders, looking overwhelmed. "It was a lot of work," he said. "Too much."