Del Otter can see faces in the forest. And then he carves them out of it.
The Sterling resident enjoys woodcarving, especially bearded and sagely looking "wood spirits" out of whatever wood he can get his hands on.
"I can do a face in about two hours," he said. "I really enjoy them. I don't usually try different things."
For 15 years Otter has been whittling away at all sorts of different projects. Otter, a retired Anchorage firefighter, said he used to meet at a woodcarvers' group when he lived there.
After he moved to the Peninsula, he found he missed his woodcarver meetings and would drive up to attend. But the long miles and bad weather got the best of him and some 10 years ago he decided to form his own group here.
That's how the Kenai Peninsula Woodcarvers was created.
Meeting the first and third Saturdays of every month at the Sterling Senior Center, the Kenai Peninsula Woodcarvers work on varied carving and wood-related projects like ornaments, birds, fishes, wood burning and chip carving.
Otter said the group has grown over the years from about six people to upward of 20.
And it's open to anybody at any level of skill.
"The only thing you need is a small dish of food and enthusiasm," he said.
The meetings are potluck-style but their are no dues or fees. Materials are provided for by the group, funded by an annual woodcarving raffle, Otter said
While some residents were busily shopping for the holidays Saturday, some 20 people were at the Sterling Senior Center making presents to keep themselves or give to others.
The day's project was a birch bark pencil holder, a somewhat easier craft to get interested people introduced to the group.
The session was being led by Dorothy Bush, a Sterling Senior Center resident, who has been making bark baskets for more than 30 years.
"It's very, very fascinating and so useful," she said about bark. "No two baskets look alike."
Otter said the woodcarvers had a booth at the Kenai Art Guild's arts and crafts fair last weekend and encouraged passersby to sign up for the meetings.
"I like it because you don't have to be perfect at it," said Loraine Cruse, of Ridgeway, while stitching imitation sinew to the top of her birch basket. "You learn by doing, I guess you might say."
Cruse was at her first meeting of the Kenai Peninsula Woodcarvers, after signing up for the meetings at the craft fair.
She brought along her friend Harriet Moravec, of Soldotna, to make a basket, too.
"I wanted to learn how to do this," Moravec said. "I always admired the Native use of natural products."
Others at the meeting Saturday have been going for years for carving and camaraderie.
Jon Ivy, of Sterling, said he has been going to the meetings for some 6 years.
"It lets me be creative and gets me out of the house," he said.
On Saturday he was carving a small dog figurine to place in the front of a dogsled made of a deer jawbone.
Otter said the carvers that keep coming back, like Ivy, have to be devoted to the art because it can be time consuming.
"If you're a carver you're a so-called hardcore carver," he said. "You have to be extremely interested in it to keep on doing it."
And John Hall, of Sterling, could be called a hardcore carver.
Hall said he started going to the group about nine years ago because his young son was interested in learning how to carve. His son is 20 now, and has moved on to chainsaw carving, but the whole Hall family still likes to go to meetings and woodcarve.
"Mainly it's fun to talk to everybody," he said.
Hall likes to carve spoons especially, and he does them all by hand, sometimes while watching TV.
"It's relaxing and you can do whatever you want," he said. And carvings makes good Christmas gifts, too, he said.
While the woodcarver group members worked away drilling holes and sewing their baskets, Otter created his own birch bark pencil holder.
"I've always been interested in art," he said. "I like making things that other people appreciate."
Brielle Schaeffer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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