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Whether their age is 12 or 92, Orange County Woodcarvers fight to keep their art form alive

For more than 40 years, the Orange County Woodcarvers have preserved a dwindling practice.

The 80 or so members of the nonprofit meet weekly at Church of the Foothills in Santa Ana to craft works of art out of wood, which are on display from noon to 9 p.m. at the Orange County Fair in Costa Mesa through Sunday.

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Bill Bahret, vice president of the nonprofit, said the carvers began displaying work and providing demonstrations at the fair decades ago. The exhibition is meant for educational purposes; the woodwork isn’t for sale.

Orange County Woodcarvers is a chapter of the California Carvers Guild, which has 51 active chapters.

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For members like Bahret, woodcarving is a unique form of art that cultivates creativity and handiness.

While many of the members are retired, the club attracts all ages. The youngest is 12, the oldest 92.

Bahret, 77, of Tustin, believes it’s important to get young people involved.

“They don’t teach woodworking at schools anymore,” Bahret said. “The kids aren’t learning to use their hands to be creative. This is something we think is important, and it’s why we teach them.”

The group partners with the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, who can earn a merit badge in return for learning about knife safety.

Bahret said it’s difficult to get kids interested in working with their hands; video games and computer screens easily distract.

“Art is a good thing, whether it’s singing or woodcarving,” Bahret said. “I am not saying that video games are bad, but art is important, and it broadens your abilities.”

Bahret said his 40 years of woodcarving experience have not just strengthened his imaginative muscle but also made him better at working with his hands.

Being part of the community is important to the members of the Orange County Woodcarvers.

Aside from the weekly meetings, the group takes part in a number of events throughout the year, including the April Imaginology educational event at the OC Fair & Event Center and the September Tall Ships Festival in Dana Point.

The most substantial gathering is the annual Orange County Woodcarving Show and Competition in October. Last year, the group had 60 tables full of carvings.

“We are hoping to keep this art going,” Bahret said. “It’s a relaxing hobby, and once you get going it’s inexpensive. Even if people don’t stick with us for 20 years, and just maybe six months, it’s something they won’t forget.”

The Orange County Woodcarvers meet from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesdays at Church of the Foothills, 19211 Dodge Ave., Santa Ana. For more information about the group, visit ocwoodcarvers.net/index.html.

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