Shirley Jackson Oswalt was a celebrated Cherokee beadworker, gourd carver, and maker of white oak baskets. She demonstrated these crafts at festivals and schools, and also taught hands-on workshops. Shirley grew the gourds that she carved as well as the corn beads she used in beadwork. Other natural materials such as vines and seeds were incorporated into her work. A native speaker of the Cherokee language, she lectured on and provided workshops about the language.
Born at home in the Snowbird Community, Shirley Jackson Oswalt grew up attending the Snowbird Indian School. This was not a boarding school, but a small Indian community school, and she described it as a really good experience. “They taught us to do the very best we could in whatever we did. And they taught us to keep our Cherokee language.” Shirley also learned traditional crafts from her family. When she was a child, she watched her mother weave baskets and do beadwork. Later she learned more about beadwork from her sister-in-law. “I try to learn a little bit of everything,” she said.
Shirley Jackson Oswalt demonstrated beadwork and basketry, taught workshops, and provided programs at schools in her own community and throughout North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia. She participated in many festivals, including the Fading Voices Festival in Snowbird, the Cherokee Voices Festival at the Museum of the Cherokee Indian, and the Sequoyah Birthplace Museum Festival in Tennessee. She was a member of the Seven Clans Art Guild. She learned immersion teaching techniques for teaching Cherokee language and offered courses at colleges and at her home in the Snowbird Community. She operated the Indian Springs Craft Shop near Robbinsville.
In February 2017, Shirley was named a Beloved Woman of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians for her contributions to educating the Cherokee community with her knowledge of cultural traditions and language. This is highest honor that can be given to a Cherokee woman.
Shirley passed away on August 21, 2017 at the age of 62.