A Thimble, and a Tale of Two Phebes

thimbleWithin every object, no matter how unassuming it may be, is a story. The Object Show: Discoveries in Bowdoin’s Collections, on display at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art through June 1, draws from the diverse collections of the College to bring many such stories to light. What looks like a simple x-ray image is actually one of the first radiographs taken in North America, showing the fractured ankle of a railroad porter who was shot in the foot in 1896. A messy set of paints turns out to be a watercolor box used by Winslow Homer.

And then there’s the thimble. In a recent gallery talk, Tess Chakkalakal, associate professor of Africana studies and English, and John Cross ’76 kicked off a discussion series titled “Multiple Perspectives in The Object Show” with a close look at this humble sewing implement.

The particular thimble on exhibit belonged to Phebe Jacobs, a freed slave working on the Bowdoin campus as a seamstress in the early 1800s. “The thimble shows what kind of history an object can tell,” Chakkalakal said. On display alongside the thimble is a booklet called Happy Phebe, one of the only sources of information on Jacobs’ life (written by another Phebe: Phebe Upham, wife of a philosophy teacher at Bowdoin). “The objects in this gallery represent an undocumented history,” Cross said. “They tell stories for people who don’t have voices.”

Read more about the thimble and other objects in The Object Show.

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