Festival celebrates all things Scandinavian

Salmon chowder, Swedish meatballs with lingonberries, lefse, heart waffles with strawberries and whipped cream and a Scandinavian dreamof baked treats. Sound good? They are all ready and waiting for hungry appetites at the eighth annual Nordic Fest.

Salmon chowder, Swedish meatballs with lingonberries, lefse, heart waffles with strawberries and whipped cream and a Scandinavian dreamof baked treats.

Sound good? They are all ready and waiting for hungry appetites at the eighth annual Nordic Fest.

The traditional family-fun festival happens today from 9:30 a.m. to

3:30 p.m. at South Whidbey High School on Maxwelton Road in Langley.

The Leese women of Greenbank have been busy preparing for the fest along with many other island women of the Ester Moe Lodge of the Daughters of Norway, who sponsor Nordic Fest each year.

Besides spending time this year preparing lefse with her daughters for the Daughters of Norway booth at the fest, Liz Leese will be manning the Bestemor’s Farm booth where the family will be selling many of the folk art pieces that have been keeping them busy at home.

“Bestemor” is the Scandinavian word for grandmother — a fitting name for the family’s farm where Katie, Maria and Emma Leese are not only homeschooled but have embraced the Norwegian heritage of their great grandmother in learning the cultural arts of Norway.

Mother Liz is a master rosemaler, a form of decorative flower painting that originated in Norway in the 1700s. Also a teacher of the craft, Leese won first place in the advanced category at the

2005 Western Rosemaler’s Association juried show of Norwegian rosemaling at the Nordic Heritage Museum in Seattle.

“Rosemaling set my feet on the path of discovery of my Norwegian grandmother’s love of her native land,” Leese said. “As a result, I became involved with the local chapter of Daughters of Norway of the Pacific Coast.”

The Ester Moe Lodge is the local chapter of the Daughters of Norway and is named for a pioneer Norwegian-American school teacher from Whidbey Island.

Leese said her own connection to her grandmother’s heritage is important to her and it has opened her and her daughters up to many areas of Norwegian culture including cooking, carving, fiber arts, music, dance, legend and literature.

Visitors to this year’s Nordic Fest can enjoy many of these aspects of the culture, too, including demonstrations by local professional folk artists.

At the children’s activity table, 16-year-old Katie said she will help make Danish heart baskets, which are traditionally filled with candy and hung on the Nordic Christmas tree.

Emma, 9, said she’s looking forward to some Norwegian coloring pages that should be easy and fun for other very young guests at the fest. Children will also be lucky to make traditional pomander balls made with cloves and twig stars, both suitable for tree hanging.

The Leese girls have enjoyed delving into the many aspects of fiber arts including weaving, felting, spinning, dyeing, knitting and embroidery. Their mother pointed out that many of the local fiber artists have offered their help in teaching the girls these forms. And, of course, living on a working farm with sheep helps them to appreciate these traditions even more.

“We would have been doing all these things 100 years ago in Norway,” Katie said.

Not only are many of the art pieces useful but they also connect the artists to the strong traditions of the Scandinavians, especially at Christmas time.

Thirteen-year-old Maria will be presenting her whimsical and colorful felted gnomes, who represent figures of Norwegian Christmas known as “Fjøsnisse” or “Julenisse.”

“Nisse” takes care of the animals on the farms and he is very short and long-bearded and lives in the barn or stable. He wears clothes of wool and often has a very tall pointy red knitted hat like Maria’s. According to Norwegian legend, one should never forget to give him a large portion of porridge on Christmas Eve or else he will play tricks on you, like moving the animals around in the barn, braiding the horses’ manes and tails and other outlandish mischief.

Katie has been busy making “redwork embroidery” tree ornaments, a form of embroidery that was taught to young girls as early as the 1880s in many parts of the world. In it, a design is created using an outline-stitch, typically done in a thread named “turkey red,” a deep rich shade that was preferred since this was one color that did not bleed as threads were always hand-dyed.

Katie has used the traditional symbols of Norway for her designs such as goats or sheep. These redwork ornaments will be sold at the Daughters of Norway table along with some charming yarn doll ornaments made by the crafty Emma.

The girls also had a grand time helping their mother to make lefse, a kind of Nordic pancake, for the sale.

The best way to eat lefse, Emma said, was with butter or cinnamon and sugar. Or you can have both on it, she said.

Liz said the lefse is usually sold out within the first half hour of the festival so lefse lovers should plan an early arrival.

The elder Leese is pleased that her daughters have taken a strong interest in the heritage she has passed on to them.

“It fits in to our farm life,” Leese said. “The girls will often bring their homework or their own crafts into my rosemaling studio while I work. I love it that they’re doing what they love and

I get to do what I love.”

Leese said that there are several folk arts schools springing up around Norway and she would like to see her daughters explore that possibility one day.

Since 2001, Leese has been teaching rosemaling to the Norwegian community. She was awarded a folk arts apprenticeship grant from the Washington State Arts Commission and shows her rosemaling pieces every year at the Scandinavian Fair in Bellingham, at Yule Fest in Seattle and at Nordic Fest. Her work also appears often at Nibbles Bakery in Oak Harbor and will be on display there through December and January for the coming holiday season.

The Leese girls have danced with the Young Skandia Dansers who will be performing at the fest this year. The Dansers will be starting again after a having had a sabbatical following their exciting tour of Norway in 2006. Sylvie Caul Andersen and Katherine Nilsen will be taking over as dance teachers for the young troupe.

While at Nordic Fest be sure to buy a raffle ticket. A single edition book by Kris Collins with illustrations by Lorraine Smalley will be raffled off along with Raggedy Ann and Anders dolls wearing hand-crafted, traditional Norwegian dress. The book tells the sheep stories as told to the author by the Leese family and other island sheep owners.

Scandinavian authors Astrid Karlsen Scott and Jean Clark Kaldahl will also be on hand to offer their publications.

Continuous musical entertainment will set the mood for the fest with musical guests Tre Norske Trio, Talia Marcus, Randy Bradley Band, Yours Truly and Vern Olsen.

And remember, if you want some of that famous lefse, go early.

Patricia Duff can be reached at 221-5300 or pduffsouthwhidbeyrecord.com.

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