Now in its ninth year, Burning Bears at the Ocean City Marketplace has become a tradition on the North Coast, celebrating chainsaw carving and camaraderie, festive fun with a bit of fund-raising, all capped off with a roaring fire on an often wet and windy winter weekend.
One of the original organizers of the event, Ivan Hass uses his “Marketplace” on State Route 109 as the host location for the event. The rest of the year, it’s what he calls a combination “wood carving, antique, curio, consignment and thrift shop.”
Burning Bears draws woodcarvers from near and far, and several hundred who watch the carvers, bid in the auction, and eagerly anticipate the coming of dusk Saturday. That’s when the 12-foot wooden bear, collectively carved by many of the attending artisans, meets the torch.
The event has grown steadily over the years, and Hass is expecting its biggest turnout of carvers ever, around 15 to 18. He has lots of cedar on hand, and they will carve whatever each chooses, all day Friday and Saturday until an auction begins, at 4 p.m. Saturday. Following the auction the big bear (or two) is torched.
One of the aspects Hass enjoys most is the wide and sometimes wild variety of event attendees. “It’s amazing, the people you get to meet,” he said. “We’ve had visitors from Japan, Australia … we’ve had a television show come out here.”
The event started in 2009 as a combination of fund-raiser for a family tragedy, and fun and festive gathering for wood carvers and the community. The event has donated to several local charities over the years. This time around, a portion of the proceeds will go to the Green Lantern Lunch Program that provides free lunches and more to low-income children in the area.
Hass explained that the event is also a celebration of the continued presence of carving in the small surfside community. He said there has been chainsaw carving artistry and marketing on this corner in Ocean City for nearly 30 years. Via the auction, carvers can scare up a little cash in the slow tourist season, plus they help some good, local causes.
But mostly, it’s about folks from near and far finding reasons to gather together on a wintry weekend for fun and friendship around the big blaze that carries the event’s name, Burning Bears.