Winnifred Needler


Winnifred Needler


  • 1933 - 1968
  • wall fragment depicting two Egyptians

Winifred (Friedl) Needler joined the staff of the Royal Ontario Museum in 1935 as a draughtsman-cataloguer.  She took a year's leave to study Egyptian and Near Eastern archaeology, along with Middle Egyptian (hieroglyphics) at Yale, which study she continued upon return to the ROM under the tutelage of Professor RJ Williams and Dr Bull of the University of Toronto.  In 1947 she was named Deputy Keeper of the Near Eastern Department and later, Curator of that department.  Under her guidance and judgement, the collections from the Islamic world, Palestinian, and ancient West Asian collections also grew steadily.  In truth she continued her passion for all things Egyptological throughout the 40s, 50s, 60s (when I had the distinct pleasure of working with her), and into the 70s.  But it was the prehistory collection that she devoted herself to whenever possible. Our fragment of a wall painting depicting two male relatives facing right and bringing offerings of flowers and ointmentnt brings me to this tale.

It was 1968 and this extraordinary piece was available and Friedl wanted desperately that the museum should have this fine piece in its collection.  She was told by the governing body of the museum that if she could raise half of the needed funds, she would be able to acquire this beautiful piece of art.  She mulled it over and a germ of an idea formed!  She had the preparators of the museum set up the painting in the left alcove of the main rotunda, so that all visitors who entered the museum would see it on entry.  She then tasked the technician, Nick Wasiliw, to fashion one of our amphora to be a receptacle, but was insistent that no harm would befall it.  So he lined the inside of the amphora with cotton, stretched a sheath of leather over its mouth with a slit fashioned so that coins and bills could be inserted, and made the leather secure with twining rope that was wrapped round a few times.  Further, a sign was placed in front of the amphora asking visitors to 'help us with the purchase of this unique offering'.  In just under two years, the visitors (mostly Ontarians) had donated most generously and we are proud to say that this piece is now on view for all to see in our Egyptian gallery.  Thank you!


PS:  This was so successful that another curator, Chris McGowan, 'borrowed' the concept a few years later, with his campaign to purchase a much sought-after dinosaur fossil.