On Jan. 18, the “Welcome to Ocean Shores” sign was officially dedicated to Judy McVay, who carved it 20 years ago. This weekend, a colorful bench she created in January will be auctioned off during the 12th annual Burning Bear Festival in Ocean City.
Every February, rain or shine, chainsaw carvers from all over gather at the Ocean City Marketplace to enjoy camaraderie, create art and make a difference.
Chainsaws will roar Friday through Sunday as visitors witness the transformation of raw logs and planks into everything from soaring eagles to ornate furniture to, yes, bears. The finished pieces are auctioned Saturday and Sunday afternoons at 4, with the proceeds going to a local beneficiary that’s generally chosen at the last minute.
Oh, and let’s not forget the signature giant bear carved by the festival participants, which becomes the centerpiece of a bonfire during Saturday evening’s revelry. The public is invited to join the carvers that night for a potluck dinner around the bonfire, plus karaoke.
The remains of the 2018 bear stand on the street corner in front of Ocean City Marketplace, owned by Ivan and Mona Hass. They host this winter festival — and a few others like it during the summer season — every year on their property.
“They come and carve, and we feed ’em and try to give ’em a place to stay — as many as we can,” says Ivan, a carver himself. “We try to make it so it doesn’t cost them any money.”
Mona runs the Marketplace, which offers chainsaw art, curios and other gift-type items. “I don’t do carvings,” she says, laughing. “I just sell it for ’em and feed ’em!”
Burning Bear was founded 12 years ago by Ivan and fellow carver Steve Backus, who was raised in Humptulips but now lives on Whidbey Island. His brother Boaz, who now lives in Spokane, travels back here to act as auctioneer every year. (Judy McVay is their mother.)
They’re hosting almost 20 artists this year, coming from as far away as Kansas. And for the first time, a prize will be awarded: The carver with the highest dollar amount in sales for the weekend received a new chainsaw.
“It’s just been getting bigger and bigger,” says Ivan. “Every year we get more carvers coming, more people.”
For more about the local carving community, watch for the Spring 2020 issue of Washington Coast Magazine, coming out in early March.