Karen Sherry Joins Worcester Art Museum as Curator of American Art

Reimagining of WAM’s Major American Fine and Decorative Arts Collection Galleries Will Be a Key Priority for Sherry, Drawing on Her Extensive Experience in This Process 

WORCESTER, MA—July 9, 2024— The Worcester Art Museum (WAM) announced today the appointment of Karen Sherry as WAM’s new Curator of American Art. Sherry will be joining the Museum from her current role as Senior Curator at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture (formerly Virginia Historical Society), where she has led a number of projects that, in particular, have reimagined and reinterpreted the institution’s American art collections. This work is directly relevant to one of Sherry’s first priorities for WAM: reconceiving the Museum’s galleries of American art from the 17th to the 19th centuries—drawing on its exceptional collection—to develop a more holistic and inclusive presentation of art and artmaking in the United States during this period. Prior to her role at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, Sherry served as the Curator of American Art at the Portland Museum of Art, and as Associate Curator of American Art at the Brooklyn Museum, among other positions. Sherry will start at WAM on July 15. 

“We look forward to seeing how Karen’s expertise and creativity transform the presentation of American art at the Worcester Art Museum,” said Claire Whitner, Director of Curatorial Affairs and the James A. Welu Curator of European Art. “Karen’s wide-ranging experience, deep knowledge, and vision are certain to innovate our presentation of American art, an area of long-standing strength at WAM. Her ability to show how historical material is relevant to contemporary audiences in engaging ways will enhance our visitors’ experience and broaden their understanding of American art, both in our galleries and in future special exhibitions.” 

During her time at the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, which she joined in 2017, Sherry developed a number of exhibitions including Secrets & Symbols: Hidden Messages in Decorative Objects; The Lost Cause: Myths, Monuments, and Murals, the reinterpretation of a 1921 historic gallery and Confederate mural cycle; Agents of Change: Female Activism in Virginia from Women’s Suffrage to Today; and Determined: The 400-Year Struggle for Black Equality. She was also a member of the Museum’s team that conceptualized and developed History Matters, a host of new displays for a major, museum-wide reinstallation that opened May 2022. In 2021, she was appointed by Virginia’s governor to serve on the state’s 10-person Commission to Study Slavery and Subsequent Economic and Racial Discrimination, bringing to this work the perspectives of a museum professional with extensive experience addressing America’s difficult history.  

Sherry’s first project at the Worcester Art Museum will be the reinstallation and reinterpretation of the Museum’s galleries that display American art from the 17th to 19th centuries, integrating the painting, sculpture, and decorative arts collections. The current installation prominently features WAM’s renowned collection of early American portraiture, which places disproportionate emphasis on white male artists and sitters from the upper classes. As a result, women and people of color—both as artists and patrons—are underrepresented. Through diversifying the media in these galleries and under Sherry’s leadership, the Museum will promote a broader and more inclusive understanding of American art—and address the difficult legacies of slavery, Indigenous exploitation, and the environmental toll of nation-building. 

Prior to joining the Virginia Museum of History & Culture, Sherry served as Curator of American Art at the Portland Museum of Art in Maine from 2012 to 2015. In addition to curating a number of exhibitions, such as Winslow Homer’s Civil War, she also oversaw the preservation and interpretation of two National Historic Landmark structures, the McLellan House (1801) and Winslow Homer Studio at Prouts Neck (1884). At the Brooklyn Museum from 2005 to 2012, first as Assistant Curator of American Art and then as Associate Curator of American Art, Sherry curated or co-curated a number of exhibitions, including Fine Lines: American Drawings from the Brooklyn Museum, American Moderns, 1910–1960: From O’Keeffe to Rockwell, Brushed with Light: American Landscape Watercolors, and Picturing Place: Francis Guy’s Brooklyn. She also contributed research on works of art for the museum’s Fund for African American Art, an initiative to build the museum’s collections of works by Black artists. 

Sherry earned her B.A. from Boston University, and her M.A. and Ph.D. in art history from the University of Delaware. Her dissertation was titled “Exposing the ‘Natural’ Woman: Female Bodies in American Visual Culture, 1785–1830.” In addition to her curatorial positions, she has held teaching positions at Pratt Institute, City College of New York, and in the education department of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts. Sherry has also written about or presented on a diverse array of topics about American art, including “Marketing a Black Artistic Identity: Joshua Johnson, Professional Painter and ‘Self-Taught Genius’” (Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, 2000), “Male Revelry, Male Bonding, and the Material Culture of Seafaring Men” (Society of Early Americanists Biennial Conference, 2009), “Impressionist Gardens: Transplanting Traditions of Floral Painting in American Art” (Taubman Museum of Art, 2017), and as a panelist for “Seeing Virginia History through Colonial Portraits” (Omohundro Institute of Early American History & Culture, 2020). 

The planned reconceptualization of WAM’s American art galleries is a continuation of its reexamination of American historical narratives that began with the temporary installation of supplemental labels a number of years ago. Now, this broader reimagining is one component of the Museum’s larger, ongoing improvements to its campus and the presentation of its collection: the $125 million A Bold Step Forward campaign. This multiyear program of capital and programmatic investments addresses critical needs across the Museum, including behind-the-scenes and back-of-house upgrades to infrastructure, and more public-facing changes, such as the new library in the Higgins Education Wing and the redesigned and rebuilt Lancaster Street entrance. With over $75 million raised towards the goal, WAM continues to plan future collection gallery reinstallations, to be announced over the next year. These are in addition to the upcoming installation of the newly designed Arms & Armor galleries, which will open in 2025. 

The reimagination and reinstallation of the Worcester Art Museum’s early American art galleries is generously supported by the Henry Luce Foundation, Terra Foundation for American Art, and the Americana Foundation. 

About the Worcester Art Museum

The Worcester Art Museum creates transformative programs and exhibitions, drawing on its exceptional collection of art. Dating from 3000 BCE to the present, these works provide the foundation for a focus on audience engagement, connecting visitors of all ages and abilities with inspiring art and demonstrating its enduring relevance to daily life. Creative initiatives— including pioneering collaborative programs with local schools, fresh approaches to exhibition design and in-gallery teaching, and a long history of studio class instruction—offer opportunities for diverse audiences to experience art and learn both from and with artists.

The Worcester Art Museum, located at 55 Salisbury Street in Worcester, MA, is open Wednesday through Sunday from 10am to 4pm. For information on admission and discounts, visit https://www.worcesterart.org/visit. Museum parking is free.

For more information, please contact:

Madeline Feller
Worcester Art Museum

Kelly Aldenberg
Worcester Art Museum