For the past 15 years, Ashley Hlebinsky has been immersed in the study of firearms history, technology, and culture becoming one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the subject. Hlebinsky has researched and worked in several nationally recognized firearms and weapons collections, including the Smithsonian Institution’s National Firearms Collection and the Buffalo Bill Center of the West’s Cody Firearms Museum. For the past decade, she worked for and ran the Cody Firearms Museum, one of the largest and only accredited firearms museums in the country. During her tenure as Curator, she was also the Project Director overseeing the full-scale multi-million-dollar renovation of the museum. It reopened in 2019 and has been praised for its role in the education of firearms and safety, as well as being a museum that does not shy away from uncomfortable topics to encourage civil dialogue on all aspects of firearms history and their impacts today.
Hlebinsky has utilized her background in researching, educating, and facilitating conversations on such a politicized subject matter to expand her expertise into more generalized social histories that deal with artifacts associated with individual and cultural trauma. Today, Hlebinsky uses that knowledge and her museum expertise to work with organizations on how best to interpret those objects for museum audiences. She has worked with many museums and academic organizations across the country, including the LA Police Museum, The Mob Museum, Houston Museum of Natural Science, Winchester Mystery House, Adirondack Museum, Organization of American Historians, and the CM Russell Museum & Complex, in a range of capacities from workshops to guest curating. She is also an author, lecturer, expert witness, television personality, and producer.
Hlebinsky has accomplished a lot during her relatively short career – achieving all of these milestones before her 30th birthday. While many have described her as the “energizer bunny” and “overly passionate,” juggling multiple high-stress, high-level projects, that level of energy is often punctuated with behind-the-scenes exhaustion and depression. In November 2020, Hlebinsky finally made sense of the polar opposite sides to her life. Realizing that maybe it’s not “normal” to have a full-time job, build a museum, run a consulting business, as well as film an entire season of a TV show at the same time, she was ultimately diagnosed with Bipolar 2 disorder. Bipolar 2 is a spectrum of Bipolar that does not include full-blown mania, rather a lesser version known as hypomania, and is identified more by the resulting depression. Hypomania often goes unnoticed and therefore, many people are misdiagnosed as having major depression. Over the past year, Hlebinsky has been working on balancing her mental illness by channeling the parts of the disorder that make her successful while mitigating the resulting impact of the depression that comes with the mood disorder. She has decided to go public with her diagnosis because she sees many similarities in the ways people stigmatize and generalize firearms as well as mental illness and hopes others feel comfortable to tell their stories and help broaden the conversation.