James Henry Pepper named new exec. director of Gilcrease Museum

TULSA, Okla. – James Pepper Henry has been named as the new executive director of Gilcrease Museum at the University of Tulsa.

Pepper Henry comes to Gilcrease Museum from the Heard Museum in Phoenix where he has served as Director and CEO since 2013. At his direction, the Heard developed the BUILD!: Toy Brick Art at the Heard exhibition, which was the most successful summer exhibit in the museum’s history, increasing museum attendance by 58 percent and memberships by 150 percent. USA Today noted BUILD! As one of its Top Ten must see exhibits in summer 2014.

Prior to the Heard, Pepper Henry enjoyed a successful six-year tenure at the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center, Alaska’s premier art, history and science institution. There, he oversaw the completion of the museum’s $110 million, 80,000-square-foot expansion. Pepper Henry is also a former associate director of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of the American Indian.

“Following a national search for a new executive director, Jim emerged as the right person to guide the next chapter of Gilcrease’s history,” said Steadman Upham, president of TU, which operates the museum for the City of Tulsa. “Jim has more than 20 years of experience in evolving leadership positions in museums across the country and has been involved in exhibition and program development that appeals to a broad audience, including new generations of patrons.”

“I am honored to have been selected as the next executive director of Gilcrease Museum,” said Pepper Henry. “I look forward to working with the Gilcrease National Board, the staff and the community to advance Gilcrease Museum.

“This is a real homecoming for me. I have lots of family and friends in Oklahoma. The museum’s founder, Thomas Gilcrease, and I share Muscogee Creek heritage. That makes my appointment as executive director even more special. I look forward to coming back to Oklahoma to lead this great museum with its tremendous collection,” Pepper Henry said.

As an associate director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) for nearly 10 years, Pepper Henry managed a wide variety of American Indian community-oriented programs, services and traveling exhibitions. He played a pivotal role in the establishment and launch of NMAI, located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., that opened to the public in 2004.

Pepper Henry served as the founding director of the Kanza Museum in Kaw City, Okla.; interim curator of American Indian Art at the Portland Art Museum; gallery director at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center in Portland, Ore.; and gallery director for the Institute of Alaska Native Arts in Fairbanks, Alaska.

Pepper Henry is an enrolled member of the Kaw Nation, and affiliated with the Muscogee Creek nation. His mother is of Kaw and Muscogee Creek descent. He was the first enrolled American Indian to lead the Heard in its 85-year history. He is co-founder and president of the Kanza Ilóshka Society, a non-profit organization dedicated to the perpetuation of the cultural life-ways and traditions of the Kaw people.

He is a graduate of the University of Oregon and a recipient of the University’s prestigious Council for Minority Education Leadership Award. He is also a graduate of the Museum Leadership Institute at the Getty Center in Los Angeles, California.

Pepper Henry has contributed essays to various publications including Stewards of the Sacred, co-published by the American Association of Museums and Harvard University, and Native Universe: Voices of Indian America, co-published by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Geographic Society.

Pepper Henry will assume his duties on March 30, 2015.