The Chumash historically inhabited the central and southern coastal regions of California, in portions of what is now San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles Counties. As many other Native peoples, the Chumash wore special regalia during song and dance ceremonies. Chumash regalia includes a broad range of design elements and raw materials, such as: shell work with abalone, clam, olive, and other shells; bark, hide, and otter skits; feather dance belts and bandoliers; and feather top notches. The skills and techniques needed to create this regalia include gathering and preparing natural materials, cutting shell, stringing necklaces, cutting hides, processing bark for skirts, and plucking feathers.
As a child, Leah Mata was always interested in the arts and very creative. When she was older, she started watching her elders and began researching oral histories. In 2011, she was chosen as a Smithsonian’s Native American Community Artist Fellow, which allowed her to study the Northern Chumash regalia collection at the National Museum of the American Indian in detail. Leah is one of a few artists in California who cuts abalone and other shells for use in traditional regalia. Her designs, which are painstakingly researched for authenticity and accuracy, make her a sought-after artist and an important part of her community’s efforts to revitalize Northern Chumash song, dance, and regalia.
As a master artist in ACTA’s Apprenticeship Program in 2013, Leah worked with her daughter and apprentice Naomi White Horse to develop Chumash regalia.