In Memoriam: Phoebe Forbes (1942-2024)

Long time Textile Curator for the Fenton, Phoebe Forbes passed away on Wednesday, March 6, 2024.

Phoebe was a graduate of Cassadaga Valley Central School and earned her degree from SUNY Fredonia. She began her career in the business office at JCC where she was president of the JCC employee union for several Years.

She came to the Fenton over 25 years ago and served as our Textile Curator. Her knowledge, skill and talent ensured that every item donated to the textile collection was given the proper attention and care that guaranteed its long- term preservation. We received many items for the collection because people trusted Phoebe’s dedication to her job.

The Lucille Ball & Desi Arnez museum was the beneficiary of her curatorial skill as a consultant for their textile collection. She was a member of the Town of Carroll Historical Society, sharing her knowledge and time there over the years.

Phoebe’s love of textiles extended to her personal life where she created dozens of quilts for children, grandchildren, and other lucky recipients. She also was a talented seamstress again showering those that she loved with beautifully crafted garments. On a personal note, Phoebe was known by all as a lovely gentle person who never said a bad word about anybody. The world will be a poorer place without her. She will be deeply missed.

Phoebe’s family suggested donations to the Fenton History Center in her memory. The Fenton will use any such donations for the maintenance and preservation of the Textile Collection in a new fund in her memory, the Phoebe Forbes Textile Fund.

“There are few left who remember when poor health forced Phoebe Forbes to cease her efforts, and very few who remember when she began. For decades, she worked with a level of skill and responsibility that would be the level of large museums, at exactly no pay. Her knowledge base was at a professional level. She knew clothing and fashion, textiles and their relevant terminology, documentation and care, men’s, women’s, and children’s clothing, underwear to overcoats, military and civilian – and she had them all numbered, photographed, protected, and properly stored. She was up to date and fastidiously professional with preservation and organization. Her work, based on the evident fashions, was the first evidence for all of us for dating any photograph. Phoebe devoted one day a week to the Fenton, much of the time working in a cramped, solitary, and often uncomfortable corner of an upstairs storage room unseen by staff, volunteers, and visitors. At other parts of her career she engaged comparatively dedicated and competent help, only a few of whom continued their work for long stretches of time. She had duplicate records of every donation in her department and a library of books and periodicals for reference, all packed into her humble workspaces. For years, her only contact with the other staff was in the lunchroom where we used to gather daily. Later, especially after the move to the Hall House, she was almost a phantom to the other Fenton people. She wasn’t conspicuous at Fenton events, and she avoided attention. Nevertheless, she was Fenton’s first, only, and most deserving, Employee of the Month. For us Oldtimers, she will be missed.”

“Phoebe was the Textile Curator and she so loved the textiles, deciphering the time period, if it wasn’t known, and taking the time to pour all of her knowledge into the description so that future labels could be written correctly.”

“The vast library that was ‘Phoebe’s’ mind has closed its doors. Any books checked out are yours to keep.” This quote from an old friend reflects the wealth of knowledge that Phoebe freely shared with all who were willing to listen. I am eternally grateful for the privilege of working with Phoebe as we preserved, catalogued and exhibited the beautiful textiles in the Fenton Museum collection. She never accepted a penny for her tireless work over many, many years. Phoebe was truly a “woman for all seasons”, supporting equal rights for women throughout history. Her contributions to music, art and education will live with me. She will be greatly missed.”

“Phoebe was an ideal volunteer. She was professional in all of her dealings with the staff and the public. She enjoyed educating us about historical dress. When I was building an exhibit, I could always count on Phoebe to add to the exhibit. She was a good friend to many. Her kindness and knowledge made the Fenton Collection staff complete.”

“Phoebe was an integral part of our historic exhibits at the Fenton. She was a fountain of knowledge as well as extremely organized. Whatever we needed she would produce in minutes. Besides being a wonderful person, she added a dimension to our exhibits we would not have had without her. She will be missed and thought of often.”

“Phoebe is irreplaceable. Her knowledge of apparel and the eras they came from was boundless. She knew just by looking at the style, thread, the collar, etc. She was always so friendly and helpful.”

“She once said that when she retired from JCC she would sleep in every day and save some portion of the day to sew – from apparel to quilts, and all of the things in between. I picture her happily sewing away. I’m grateful that she was my friend and co-worker. “

“Phoebe was exceptional. We are better people for having interacted with her. I will miss her positive attitude and helpfulness.”

Phoebe Forbes Textile Fund
Donations in Memory of Phoebe
Barbara Cessna
Wendy Chadwick Case
Traci Langworthy
Janet Wahlberg
Jamestown Community College
JMK Mystery Book Group

Like this article?

Share on Facebook
Share on Twitter
Share on Linkdin
Share on Pinterest

Leave a comment