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Tule Mat Making: A Lesson in Resourcefulness

by Amanda Gonzalez

Karen Osland teaches the group about the history of tule reed. Photo by Amanda Gonzalez.

On Saturday, October 8 the second workshop from the Arts and Traditions of the Presidio Neighborhood Workshop Series was held in the comedor of the historic Casa de la Guerra house museum. Karen Osland, experienced docent, expert on Native California plants and basketry for over 25 years, and co-owner of Lavenpine Consulting, instructed the class.

Participants learned the history of tule reed in early California and the variety of peoples that utilized this plant. Tule is a plant that grows in wetland habitats in California and in many different locations worldwide. Karen taught about the variety of uses that tule had and taught about the historical significance of the plant in Chumash life. Tule stems were used to make floor and sleeping mats, cordage, skirts, for thatching houses, for baskets, and much more. Once the Spanish and Mexican peoples arrived to the Santa Barbara area, the Chumash were able to share their knowledge of this useful plant. The resourcefulness of the Chumash, and subsequently Spanish citizens, was a key lesson learned from the workshop. 

Torie Quiñonez concentrates on making her own tule mat during the workshop. Photo by Amanda Gonzalez.

After a stimulating history lesson, participants were given tule reeds to make their own mats in the same style that early Californians would have made them. Each participant was able to have one-on-one time with Karen to learn the technique involved in mat making. As the mats were being made, everyone learned the patience and technique involved in the process.

Karen Osland brought samples of basketry she had made from tule reed for the group to enjoy. Photo by Amanda Gonzalez.

Once the workshop ended, participants were able to leave with a mat that was evidence of the new skill they had learned; additionally, all left with a new appreciation for native California plants and the resourcefulness of early California peoples.

The next opportunity to participate in an exciting workshop will be on November 5 for Early California Dance with Diana Replogle-Purinton. Now that you’ve had a lesson in resourcefulness, why not join us for a dance?

Amanda Gonzalez is the Office Manager at the Santa Barbara Trust for Historic Preservation



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