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'We use special wool from an old kind of sheep. It's a very beautiful sheep," says Lizzie Riiber. "The wool has a shine to it." The sheep from which Riiber's yarn comes is called spælsau. According to wikipedia.org, what makes this wool special is its two

layers -- "an outer longhaired, glossy undulating layer of wool protecting the underlying layer against wind and rain" and the underlying layer that serves to keep the sheep warm. This wool was used to make sails for Viking ships and clothing "because it was light, stable, and absorbed little moisture." "We color our own yarn so that we get the right shades," says Riiber. For red, Riiber uses a dye made from crushed cochineal insects. "Cochineal bugs live on the cactus. They make a lovely red; we buy it from Mexico and the Middle East. In the old days they used roots." Norway's indigenous plant life, including leaves and bark, was used to color wool yellow, green, and gray. "Blue was made in a very special way, with urine from men who had been drinking a lot. They had to add yeast to turn the color, then they boiled it down. When you see these old colors [on tapestries and clothing dating back to the 10th Century], they are really from nature, from what people had around them. But today we buy the blue."

A few of Riiber's hand-woven pieces (crafted using traditional Norwegian techniques) are on exhibit at the Mingei International Museum in Balboa Park. On Saturday, April 1, the museum hosts a Norwegian Festival complete with lectures, music, food, and art. The festival continues on Sunday, April 2, when Princess M...rtha Louise of Norway will discuss and sign her children's book, Why Kings and Queens Don't Wear Crowns.

Guests will witness a bunad parade showcasing traditional costumes. Norwegians still wear these elaborately embroidered outfits for special events, particularly the May 17 National Day celebration. "Norwegians today have money from oil," says Anne Høidal, one of the festival's organizers. "Norway exports more oil than Kuwait, and there are only four and a half million people there, so people have the money to buy costumes, [which can cost] between $2500 and $6000, depending on how much hand work [was involved]. Young men are buying it more than anyone else in Norway. [The costumes] are worn to big birthdays, christenings, confirmations, weddings, Christmas parties, and so on."

Høidal planned the dinner that takes place Saturday night in honor of Norway's famous playwright Henrik Ibsen, who died 100 years ago. Peter Larlham, from the School of Theater, Film, and Television at San Diego State University, will do a dramatic reading from Peer Gynt, one of Ibsen's plays. In the play, Høidal explains, "Peer is tempted by the daughter of the king of the mountain, who seduces him into the mountain, and when you are seduced by one of those green-clad women who sometimes had a tail, then you are lost forever. But Peer is saved by a very innocent girl and his mother who ring the church bell just when he is ready to give up and say, 'I will be a troll.'" The dessert for the evening has been dubbed "Peer Gynt's Green-Clad Temptress," a green cake that "will most likely have a picture of Ibsen on top."

Prior to dinner, Bernt Erik Nilsen will speak on stave and stone church construction. "Almost all stave churches we know of today were built by 1250," says Nilsen. "Many of these churches are still in use as the regular parish churches, though they were originally built as farm chapels. The oldest church ruin that we know about was built in the 10th Century in Urnes. It's the only one of the stave churches on the United Nations registry of historical buildings."

Urnes style, named for the carvings surrounding the doors of the church in Urnes, is widespread in Norway. "Urnes style of carving is mainly of animals and is supposed to depict the battle between good and evil," Nilsen explains. "The carving is plain enough to see two animals in a fight of life and death. In later years these carvings became so intricate it is hard to see the head or tail." The animals carved in this style are very curvy and tend to include snakes.

"One thing everybody wants to know is why dragon heads are on stave churches. Well, it's a blatant case of false advertising. The dragon head was a symbol of Odin, the old god, [and it was placed over the doorway] to show that he was protecting the new Christ child's church. Then, even if you had respect and a hankering for Odin, it was okay to come into the church because Odin had accepted it and was protecting it." As time passed, the dragon heads on new churches grew smaller and crosses were featured more prominently. -- Barbarella

Norwegian Festival Saturday, April 1, and Sunday, April 2 Mingei International Museum Plaza de Panama, Balboa Park Cost: $75 for Saturday daytime; $75 for Henrik Ibsen Saturday dinner; $25 for adults and $10 for children for Sunday presentations by Princess Märtha Louise Info: Reservations, 619-239-0003, ext. 116; general information, www.mingei.org

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