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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

The Press Newspaper

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Deep in lower Bavaria, Germany, where farmland gives way to the foothills of the Alps, a Schawerfreitag or Friday-born child came into the world on Friday, May 21, 1909. She was given the name Berta Hummel.

An ancient German folklore states that those born on Friday will be gifted with vivid imaginations and a tendency to be very artistic and creative.

Yes, Berta was born in Messing, Bavaria. Her last name, Hummel, is a German word meaning, “Bumblebee.”

Berta’s natural talent for the arts was primarily drawing and painting. She saw beauty in the simple things in life, such as flowers, birds, animals and children. These simple and innocent subjects were always present in her sketches, paintings and figurines.

Talent for the arts was encouraged by her parents. In Germany in the early 1900s, the arts usually were discouraged because, financially, they were not high on the list. Girls were also not encouraged to further their education.

In Germany around 1915, schools were administered by the church, not the state. One Catholic school teacher recognized Berta’s exceptional artistic talents, and made arrangements for her to attend a fine Catholic school which majored in art. As she matured, the Catholic faith became a very important part of Berta’s life.

Because of some fine professors at the Academy of Fine Arts in Munich, she expanded her artistic horizons by studying art history, theory and technique. At the academy, Berta started painting still life and nature scenes, but also continued her sketches.

Amidst the idyllic surrounding of trees, flowers, sunrises and sunsets at the academy, Berta met two Franciscan sisters. There, with many opportunities to share, she realized that art and the Catholic faith could co-exist very comfortably.

Her experience in Munich was enlightening to Berta; it gave her art cultural sophistication.

In spite of her love for art, her faith drew her to enter the convent in 1934, where she took her first vows. From then on, her name was to be Sister Maria Innocentia. Seeing her ability and love of art, her Mother Superior gave her the responsibility to teach art to children of all ages.
When she taught, she encouraged the youngsters to try to remember their early childhood experiences, and to let those experiences inspire them when creating their artwork.

For example, Sister Maria once drew two sketches that later became the figurines of “School Boy” and “School Girl.” Remembering her early school days inspired Sister Maria to sketch the remembrances. The figurine “Culprit” – which started as a sketch – brought back memories of picking an apple from her neighbor’s tree and being chased away by his dog.

What about the figurines’ characteristic sad but beautiful eyes and much-too-big shoes? She remembered those children during World War II when food and money were in short supply and parents purchased shoes that were way too big so children could wear them a long time, and maybe the shoes could be passed on to brothers and sisters, too.

Her work was a gift of joy to many throughout the world. Her popularity really seemed to increase when the three-dimensional figures were manufactured and were available for purchase.

Sister Maria also sketched fonts, lamps and Madonnas.

Prior to 1952, “M.I. Hummel” figurines were not considered works of art. After WWII, the American soldiers and other military personnel were returning home and taking Hummels with them. They were so impressed with Goebel’s figures, which were based on Sister Maria’s sketches, that they convinced the U.S. government to make the Hummels “True Works of Art.”

In Northern Bavaria, near the town of Coburg, Max Louis Goebel and son Franz took the helm of the company in the village once known as Oeslau, now known as Rodental. They began manufacturing earthenware products. In 1933, Sister Maria’s art became known to Franz Goebel when he saw them in Munich. Franz was very impressed when he examined the religious note cards for Christmas and other occasions.

He conceived the idea of translating these note cards into three-dimensional figurines. He sought and gained permission from the convent and Sister Maria. In 1935, the guidelines for manufacturing the figurines were established. Designs had to be pre-approved by the convent and Sister Maria before a figurine could be manufactured and sold. The convent had the final say. The name Hummel must had to be included on every figurine base – either as “M.I.Hummel,” “B. Hummel” “M.J. Hummel” or simply “Hummel.”

The first figurines were shown at the annual Leipzig Trade Fair in 1935 raising excitement in Franz Goebel and fairgoers.
Franz Goebel became excited to meet his new challenges. His goal was to make the figurines as close as possible to Sister Maria’s drawings and paintings.
Another exciting event was when the Goebel family implemented the use of ceramic in the production. They found this material to be beneficial for making figurines because of its inherent softness. Goebel also ordered special paints, glazes, modeling and mold-making equipment. By the end of 1935, there were 46 models of Hummel figurines. With this stimulus, Sister Maria created more and more paintings and sketches.

There are many reasons why Goebel figurines and other products are so well done. One is the thorough training of the craftworkers that are employed. In order to earn diplomas, all candidates had to complete a three-year course – a three-part program that combines factory training with classroom learning. Each year, they had three months of study at night while they worked in the daytime. Learning consisted of such areas as design, drawing and chemistry.

Positive attitudes had much to do with the high-quality workmanship. The Goebel factory fostered a family relationship among the directors, managers, craftsmen and women and other workers. The company provided social and recreational activities such as a sauna, pool, tennis court, library and a kindergarten and daycare center for employees’ children.

In 1937, Catholic and private schools and religious organizations began to be closed by the Hitler regime. Taxes to be paid by convents and religious groups were raised to extraordinary levels. In spite of this, Siessen Convent remained open.
In 1938, Sister Maria Innocentia’s health started to fail. In time, she developed pleurisy, a lung infection, and chronic tuberculosis. She passed away at the age of 37 on Nov. 6, 1946. At her request, her final resting place is in the Convent Siessen Cemetery.

Because of financial strain, Hummel figurines stopped being produced on Sept. 30, 2008. The company continued producing accessories in the gift and home area.

Good news came in February 2009 when Hummel figurines began to be manufactured again by a new company, Rodental, which purchased the rights from Goebel. Many of the original artists continued working. The same relationship continued with the Hummel family and Convent Siessen.

In 1977, an M.I Hummel Club was organized and now has members worldwide in 88 or more countries. The club keeps Hummel collectors informed on all aspects of the international company.

To keep generations knowing the history of Goebel and Sister Maria, a museum was built in July 1984. The museum was opened in the Hummel home – Berta’s birthplace – in Massing, Bavaria. The museum is called the “Das Berta – Hummel Museum in Hummel Haus.”

In the United States, a museum opened in 1944 in Rosemont, Illinois. The museum features what is probably the largest public display in the world of both current M.I. Hummel items and old rare pieces. It was donated by Donald E. Steven, who resides in the town of Rosemont.

Sister Maria’s work was a gift of love to many throughout the world. She saw beauty the simple things of life. She will be long remembered by her sketches, paintings and especially by her Hummel figurines.

Reed Oestreich, of Oak Harbor, is the author of “Christmas When and Why,” a book for children and adults about how the countries of the world celebrate Christmas, and “Adolphus Kraemer: A Man of Vision,” which shares how pioneers of the 1800s settled in the Black Swamp area. Contact him at 419-898-5247.

 

 

 

Universal Income

What do you think of presidential candidate Andrew Yang's proposal for a universal basic income of $1,000 per month for every adult?
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