Staff Biographies

Museum Director and Exhibition Curators

October 29, 2015

Kevin Gover

Kevin Gover is the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and a citizen of the Pawnee Tribe of Oklahoma. Since he began as director in 2007, the museum has opened several critically acclaimed exhibitions, including “Fritz Scholder: Indian/Not Indian,” the largest retrospective ever of the seminal 20th-century modern painter and sculptor; “Brian Jungen: Strange Comfort,” a major exhibition of the prominent Canadian artist (Dunne-za First Nations/Swiss-Canadian); “Infinity of Nations: Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian,” a spectacular permanent exhibition of 700 works in October 2010; and “A Song for the Horse Nation,” a treasure trove of stunning objects presenting the epic story of the horse’s influence on American Indian tribes.

Under Gover’s leadership, the museum’s collections search launched online to provide digital access to the museum’s objects and photographs, and the imagiNATIONS Activity Center opened in June 2012, providing a dynamic space for young visitors.

Gover was the assistant secretary for Indian Affairs in the U.S. Department of the Interior from 1997 to 2000 under President Bill Clinton, where he won praise for his efforts to rebuild long-neglected Indian schools and expand tribal and Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) police forces throughout the country. His tenure as assistant secretary is perhaps best known for his apology to Native American people for the historical conduct of the BIA.

Upon leaving office, Gover practiced law at Steptoe & Johnson LLP in Washington. In 2003, he joined the faculty at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law at Arizona State University and served on the faculty of the university’s Indian Legal Program, one of the largest such programs in the country. 

Gover received his bachelor’s degree in public and international affairs from the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton University and his juris doctor degree from New Mexico’s College of Law. He was awarded an honorary doctor of laws degree from Princeton University in 2001.

David Penney

David W. Penney is the associate director of museum scholarship at the National Museum of the American Indian. An internationally recognized scholar, curator and museum administrator, Penney was appointed as the first associate director of the newly organized Museum Scholarship Group at the museum in April 2011 after a 31-year career at the Detroit Institute of Arts, where he last served as vice president of exhibitions and collections strategies.

Penney’s exhibitions of note include “Indigenous Beauty: American Indian Art from the Diker Collection” for the American Federation of Arts (2015); “Before and After the Horizon: Anishinaabe Artists of the Great Lakes,” a collaboration with co-curator Gerald McMaster and the Art Gallery of Ontario (2014); “The American Indian: Art and Culture Between Myth and Reality” for the Nieuwe Kerk in Amsterdam (2012); “Art of the American Indian Frontier: The Chandler Pohrt Collection” for the National Gallery of Art, Seattle Art Museum, Buffalo Bill Historical Society, Dallas Museum of Art and Detroit Institute of Arts (1992–1994); and “Ancient Art of the American Woodland Indians,” for the National Gallery of Art, Detroit Institute of Arts and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (1986–1994).

Author of numerous publications, Penney’s most recent work includes the exhibition catalog for “Before and After the Horizon…”; an essay for the National Museum of the American Indian and Yale University Press collaboration, For the Love of His People: The Photography of Horace Poolaw; “Native American Art: Pre-Contact,” for the acclaimed Oxford Online Bibliographies for Art History; and the widely known Native North American Art for the Thames and Hudson World of Art Series published in 2004.

Kathleen Ash-Milby

Kathleen Ash-Milby is an associate curator at the National Museum of the American Indian in New York, the George Gustav Heye Center. She has organized numerous contemporary art exhibitions at the museum, including “Glittering World: Navajo Jewelry of the Yazzie Family” (2014) “C. Maxx Stevens: House of Memory” (2012) and “Off the Map: Landscape in the Native Imagination” (2007). She was the co-curator, with Truman Lowe, for “Edgar Heap of Birds: Most Serene Republics,” a public art installation and collateral project for the 52nd International Art Exhibition/Venice Biennale (2007).

Ash-Milby is a recipient of a 2011 Secretary of the Smithsonian’s Excellence in Research Award for her exhibition and publication HIDE: Skin as Material and Metaphor (2010). She served on the boards of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective (2007–2012), and the American Indian Community House (2005–2007) and is currently the president of the Native American Art Studies Association (2011–2015). She was the curator and co-director of the American Indian Community House Gallery in New York City from 2000 to 2005.

A member of the Navajo Nation, she earned her Master of Arts from the University of New Mexico in Native American art history. 

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