The Museum has announced that Kathleen Ash-Milby will be the new curator of Native American Art. Ash-Milby comes to the Museum from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in New York, where she serves as an associate curator. The Portland Art Museum position, which has been vacant since 2016, is responsible for the care, research, and exhibition of objects in the Museum’s Native American art collection; researching and developing Native American and indigenous exhibitions; working on related educational programs; and building strong, active, and ongoing relationships and partnerships with Native communities. Ash-Milby will start work at the Museum in July 2019.
During her nearly 20-year tenure at the National Museum of the American Indian, Ash-Milby organized a number of important and influential exhibitions, including Transformer: Native Art in Light and Sound with David Garneau (2017), Kay WalkingStick: An American Artist (2015) with co-curator David Penney, C.Maxx Stevens: House of Memory (2012), HIDE: Skin as Material and Metaphor (2010), and Off the Map: Landscape in the Native Imagination (2007). She also recently opened Jeffrey Veregge: Of Gods and Heroes, a site-specific mural at NMAI created by Jeffrey Veregge, a Salish artist of the Port Gamble S’Klallam, near Seattle.
Ash-Milby was also the co-curator of the SITElines Biennial: much wider than a line, at SITE Santa Fe (2016); Mind (the) Gap: International Indigenous Art in Motion, Samstag Museum of Art, University of South Australia (2011); and Edgar Heap of Birds: Most Serene Republics, a public art installation and collateral project for the 52nd International Art Exhibition/Venice Biennale (2007).
“Kathleen is a highly respected leader in the field. Her groundbreaking work and exciting vision will be important to deepening further our Museum’s relationship with our community and the region,” said Portland Art Museum Director Brian Ferriso. “We couldn’t be more excited by her appointment to this critical position.”
Ash-Milby will take over a well-supported and growing department. Long renowned for the depth and diversity of its collections, the Native American Art department has evolved tremendously in recent years with grants from the Mellon Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences (IMLS) supporting research, digitization, and exhibitions. Among the projects recently funded by the IMLS is the Museum’s Center for Contemporary Native Art, an exhibition space and series dedicated to showcasing the work of contemporary Native American artists through a collaborative planning process. The Museum has greatly expanded the support and acquisition of contemporary Native American work in its permanent collection, adding works by rising artists such as Wendy Red Star and Nicholas Galanin. Both artists were represented in two major special exhibitions presented at the Museum in 2016 featuring the work of contemporary Native American artists, Contemporary Native Photographers and the Edward Curtis Legacy and Native Fashion Now.
“I’m thrilled to be returning to the Northwest and joining the Portland Art Museum at such an important time in its growth,” said Ash-Milby. “Portland has such a vibrant community of Native artists and community members, and I’m looking forward to being a part of it.”
The hiring process was inclusive of a broad range of stakeholders. Key among those stakeholders were members of the Museum’s Native Advisory Board, a group of Native community leaders and artists who advise the Museum.
“I have known Kathleen since she started working at the National Museum of the American Indian,” said acclaimed Portland artist Lillian Pitt. “I have been a member of the Native Advisory Board since it was founded, and while the hiring process was lengthy, I am so pleased that Kathleen accepted the job. She will make us all proud.”
Ash-Milby has won a number of awards for her research and writing, and she served on the boards of the Aboriginal Curatorial Collective (2007–2012) and the American Indian Community House (2005–2007); she served as president of the Native American Art Studies Association from 2011 to 2015. She was also the curator and co-director of the American Indian Community House Gallery in New York City from 2000 to 2005. In addition to the exhibition catalogs for many of her exhibitions, she has been published widely, including essays in Art Journal and Art in America. Her work at NMAI included significant contributions to building the Smithsonian’s collection of contemporary Native art.
A member of the Navajo Nation, she earned a Bachelor of Arts from the University of Washington and a Master of Arts from the University of New Mexico in Native American art history. She will start at the Portland Art Museum in July 2019, after her current commitments in New York are finished.