Whitney Western Art Museum staff
Meet the staff of the Whitney Western Art Museum at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Curator Karen McWhorter.
Scarlett Curator of Western American Art
Collier-Read Director of Curatorial, Education, and Museum Services
Karen McWhorter began her tenure as the Scarlett Curator of Western American Art for the Whitney Western Art Museum in March 2015. She develops gallery installations, exhibitions, interpretation, and programming for western American art at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West. She took on the additional role of the Collier-Read Director of the Curatorial, Education, and Museum Services Division in 2021.
Since 2016, McWhorter has served as project director and/or curator for seven major traveling exhibitions including Invisible Boundaries: Exploring Yellowstone’s Great Animal Migrations (2016) and Albert Bierstadt: Witness to a Changing West (2018). Exhibitions curated for single-venue presentation include Inspiring Sights: Yellowstone through Artists’ Eyes (2016–17) and The Art & Influence of Charles M. Russell (2017–18).
McWhorter lectures widely about art of the American West and has contributed to eight catalogues published by a university press or museum. Recent essays include: “Joseph Henry Sharp’s Pursuit of Inspiration,” in The Life & Art of Joseph Henry Sharp (2018) and “A Royal Connection: From the Wild North(West) to Westminster,” in Return to Calgary: Charles M. Russell and the 1919 Victory Stampede (2019).
McWhorter’s areas of expertise include nineteenth-century American art, contemporary western American artists, and topics in museum studies. She serves on several committees dedicated to supporting the arts and humanities in her community and is a member of professional organizations including the American Alliance of Museums. McWhorter holds an MA in Art History from University of Colorado, Boulder, and is a graduate of the Museum Leadership Institute’s NextGen program.
Curatorial Assistant, Whitney Western Art Museum
Ashlea Espinal joined the Whitney Western Art Museum in November 2021 as Curatorial Assistant. Before joining the Whitney, Espinal completed a MA in Art and Museum Studies at Georgetown University in 2010, and her doctorate in Native American Art History at the University of Oklahoma in 2019.
Espinal has served as an art history adjunct instructor from 2019 to 2020 for both the University of Oklahoma and Bacone College. Additionally, she has held numerous internships at museums throughout the country, including the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art, the Denver Art Museum, and the Fred Jones Jr. Museum of Art at the University of Oklahoma.
Espinal’s area of focus is contemporary Native arts, and her research and curatorial work merge the disciplines of art history, visual culture, cultural memory, and museology. She is particularly interested in how knowledge is stored and transmitted through art, and how this enables history to be visually written through art and objects.