Q&A 32: Curatorial Adventures with Ashley Hlebinsky

The Cody Firearms Museum recently held its third annual Arsenals of History symposium, gathering professionals from firearms museums across the world to discuss issues specifically related to this particular speciality within the museum world. This year the symposium had a particular focus on social media, and so a number of folks like me were also invited. After the symposia concluded, I sat down with Ashley Hlebinsky, curator of the Cody Firearms Museum to discuss a variety of questions raised by my Patrons…

02:06 – How does one become a firearms museum curator, and how awesome is it to be one?
05:26 – How do you maintain guns in the collection, especially ones on display?
08:22 – Best ways to support gun museums
10:19 – Cotton or nitrile gloves?
14:09 – Direction and future of museum industry
16:14 – Experiences of a female curator?
20:04 – Shooting vs preservation
25:28 – Displaying replica items?
26:12 – What evolutionary process is best represented at Cody?
28:15 – Interaction between firearms museums?
30:01 – Most challenging aspects of managing a large collection?
32:57 – Archival documents
35:48 – How does Cody maintain inventory control and not lose items?
37:57 – Legal complications for firearms museums
40:01 – Scholarly firearms research in a hostile academic environment
44:13 – What old firearms concepts does Ashley want to come back?
45:30 – Private vs collection, and how does Ashley spend her time?
47:10 – What changes have been made to the Cody Firearms Museum?
51:50 – Cultural attitudes towards guns, Cody vs Smithsonian
55:07 – Has Cody turned down a gun donation, and why?

The Cody museum has just recently reopened after a complete renovation. They have even more guns on display now than before, and the layout of the museum has been improved. I would rate it the best firearms-specific museum in the United States, and I highly recommend visiting if you have to opportunity!

25 Comments

  1. Unfortunately, I couldn’t understand very much of what the young lady said. This is partly due to the horrid acoustics, but partly just because she just speaks too fast.

    • “(…)too fast.”
      Not sure if that would help, but you might slow-down youtube videos, just click on cogwheel (bottom bar) and look for speed of playing (or something like this, not sure what it is exactly in U.S. version), then you might choose: 0.25 or 0.5 or 0.75

  2. Excellent interview. The fact that there is so little encouragement for academic research into gun related topics in the USA is actually a shock. Most gun books are obviously going to be about guns rather than the sociology or historiography of guns, but the fact that Ashley could name only two bad books that covered these areas, that universities see as vital to defining research, suggests both academia and the gun community are missing a vital market. Could Headstamp fill some of the gap?

    btw. The Curator of Industrial and Social History, Bradford Museums (West Yorkshire), runs at least 2 museums and looks as young as Ashley did when she was blond. Her assistant looks young enough to be travelling on the bus half fare. Like Ashley they do more work than I would have thought possible, yet have been far more supportive of the projects I have run in their museums than any old fashioned museum boss I have ever worked with.

  3. Great interview about topics that are never covered. The Cody Firearms Museum is definitely on my shortlist of places to visit.

    It looks as is they are holding the interview in the Cody Firearms Museum morgue.

  4. Anyway, ran out of FW ? Just to know what the subject is, and to whom it refers…The grosser’s became a super market and sells everything ?Then, the vegeterians will not drop in very often !

  5. The shooting vs preservation argument is similar in the aircraft world. With items like aircraft, use runs the risk of loss due to crash or fire. But pure preservation makes the item not ‘live’ any more.

  6. Very good interview! I too would like to see Ashley’s paper on firearms in counterculture, and would be extremely interested in your paper about concentration camp uprisings.

    I would say to Ashley…..A waiver for museums to get around the Hughes Amendment would be good, but repealing the Hughes Amendment so all collectors would have access would be BEST. It would also allow people like myself, with the knowledge, skills, and machinery, to produce modern replicas without getting thrown in prison. Repealing the Hughes Amendment would make a Burton Light Machine Rifle modern copy a real possibility.

  7. Umm, besides Ian’s huge, table lifting chubby while talking with someone who shares his enthusiasm for antique firearms, Ashley is obviously the right person in the right job. The fortunate benefit of her being attractive and articulate as well is great for the museum and firearms conservation in general.

    I enjoyed visiting the museum twice in its former iteration, it’s now another place I will have to revisit soon, perhaps in coordination with a trip to Little Bighorn. And they are not lying about the daily rodeo in Cody.

    Thanks, Ian, for one of my favorite Q and As in a long time.

    • That “C” in front would likely cause a considerable mispronunciation in common N/A English. So, it was smart move on part of its bearer to change it.

      I found many people in this continent with modified names, some of them did not know the original form or how to pronounce it properly. You can say, they “got lost in translation” 🙂

        • Aaa… here it is; you’ve got it.

          They also mention “kruh/krug” – this is bread in Croatian. Word “kruh” in Czech means “circle”. In old times we had bread in oval or round form. It adds up, does it?

          Now Ms. Hlebinsky knows everything about her name’s origin; free of charge 🙂

  8. Ian, concerning gloves for handling firearms and other artifacts at the military museum I volunteer with, I have gone to using the very-lightweight knit work gloves with a nitrile palm-&-finger dip (or similar gardening or shooting gloves when they are inexpensive) . They have better dexterity and SPECTACURLARLY better grip than cotton, are more breathable if somewhat less dexterous than regular nitrile, and they can easily be washed if they become lightly soiled (e.g. weapons oil). If I need clean gloves and don’t have a spare set at the time, I can wash and dry them on my hands and just live with the damp knit on my hands while they finish drying. They are durable enough to fully justify the few dollars a pair that I spend (on a limited fixed income) to avoid the museum-supplied ones. I also carry a pair of the similar but distinctly heavier nitrile-dipped work gloves for moving displays and such work to preserve the artifact-handling gloves. Full disclosure, I was recruited for the arms collection because of my military weapons background but I’ve wound up spending the majority of my time working in general collections.

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