Longtime Smyrna resident Sally Wells has been named one of the four 2019 winners of the Folklife Heritage Award as part of the Governor’s Arts Awards program.
Wells and the other recipients will be honored at a ceremony hosted by Governor and First Lady Lee on Saturday at the Executive Residence.
Wells is a revered elder in Tennessee’s Choctaw community.
She was raised on the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indian Reservation, and her family joined a small migration of Mississippi Choctaw seeking agricultural opportunities in West Tennessee. As a bead worker, dressmaker, traditional cook and speaker of the Choctaw language, her life and work represent a direct link to a deep and rich Native American cultural heritage.
Wells spent much of her career working for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Indian Health Service. She is also a founder and board member of the Native American Indian Association, a volunteer role she has held for 37 years.
She serves each year as the Chair of the Arts and Crafts Demonstration Village at the Tennessee Indian Education Pow Wow, Tennessee’s largest Native American cultural event, held each year at Long Hunter State Park. As leader of the Demonstration Village, Wells ensures that all vendors and demonstrators at the event are practicing authentic art forms.
“Sally possesses an innate drive to make authentic beadwork reflective of her Choctaw heritage. She is the kind of artist who understands the need to share ideas and techniques, be that with students during a classroom demonstration, participants attending the Native American Indian Association festival or members of the community,” folklorist Liza Blair said in a news release.
Earlier this year, Wells was chosen as an artist in residence at the Creative Discovery Museum in Chattanooga, where she provided hands-on demonstrations to museum guests. Her work has been displayed at the Tennessee Arts Commission gallery.