Cherubic Hummel figurines manage to evoke strong emotions among the children and adults alike. They were expectedly coveted by the children from both sides of the Atlantic and equally hated by the self-righteous Nazi regime.
Ironically, their angelic features seemed to have defied the onslaught of any censorship or ridicule. Nearly three-quarter of a century has passed since its first creation. Hummel figurines are still collected enthusiastically across the world.
Berta Hummel: The Creator of Hummel Figurines
Behind the creation of these porcelain figurines lies another story that is equally intriguing. It was Berta Hummel or Sister Maria Innocentia’s (21st May, 1909 – 6th November, 1946) passion for artistic creations that paved the way for this eponymous line of figures.
Berta Hummel was born in a picturesque Bavarian village of Massing. Her penchant for drawing and painting was recognised early and even encouraged by her loving father. As a child, she loved playing on the green pastures. She even excelled in various winter sports and practised them with her fellow playmates on the nearby mountain terrain.
She was admitted to the Sisters of Loreto in Simbach am Inn by her father. He wanted to make sure her skills are properly honed. After completing her graduation she joined the Academy of Applied Arts in Munich in 1927.
Berta was devoutly religious. This was apparent in her sketches and paintings since the early days of her youth. Soon, the calling became too great for her to ignore any longer. After graduating from the Academy with the highest honours in 1931, she became a postulant.
She paid one final visit to her home after that. On 22nd August, 1933, Berta Hummel became a novice, Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel.
Life of Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel
Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel continued to practice painting. She was assigned to teach art in a convent school. Her fellow Sisters there were much impressed with her work and sent her paintings to the publishing house of Emil Fink Verlag.
Her paintings were soon published as postcards and received great commendations. The proceedings from these exhibitions used to help the convent. In 1934, a book titled, Das Hummelbuch, was published.
Along with the descriptions of her work, the book contained poesies of author and children’s book writer, Margarete Seemann.
Around this time her artworks caught the eyes of Franz Goebel, the owner of a renowned porcelain factory. He wanted to produce a new line of artwork and was searching for inspirations.
After much deliberation, Sister Innocentia agreed to let Goebel utilise her paintings to produce the Hummel figurines. The decision helped both the factory workers, many of whom had their jobs on line due to a scarcity of work, and the Convent of Sießen.
Success and its Aftermath
When the Hummel figurines were first displayed Leipzig Trade Fair in 1935, it proved to be an instant success.
On the heels of success though came pain. The Nazi regime started shutting down all the Franciscan Schools. Sister Innocentia believed in Franciscan order and was associated with a Franciscan convent.
Her artwork earned the wrath of Adolf Hitler himself. Paradoxically, the same regime also started swallowing half the profit from the sales of the Hummel dolls that was owed to the convent.
Continuous struggle to save her community and the overall horror of World War II started having a telling impact on Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel’s health. In 1944, she contracted tuberculosis.
After spending five months in a sanatorium in Isny im Allgäu she returned to the convent. But soon she was overcome by a recurrence of the disease which rapidly started affecting her health. She finally succumbed to death on 6th November, 1946, at an age of 37.
Hummel Figurines Today
In more ways than one Berta Hummel, the carefree child who loved running across the fields in Massing, lives through her creation to this date. Her sketches of the Hummel figurines depict not only the simple joys of life but also a sisterly love, even a deep admiration of nature and all living beings, including, birds and other animals.
The pastoral lifestyles they showcase have since become a social and historical documentary of a sort. As many critics will tell you that the time after the end of World War II has little in common to the one belonging to the earlier part of the century. It seems that the war has pulled curtains on such simple, languid and bucolic days full of charm and naivety.
Hummel figurines are preserved in the museums and private collections worldwide. Centa Hummel, Sister Innocentia’s sister, worked relentlessly to preserve the memories of her sister.
Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel’s legacy is safely preserved in the hearts of millions who had an opportunity of seeing and holding her work – for any artist and human being that remains the greatest achievement of all.