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Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel: Beloved artist, saintly nun

Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel:

Beloved artist, saintly nun

By Charlene Scott Myers

It is unbelievable to me that Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel, creator of the beautiful Hummel figurines and paintings of children and the Madonna loved around the entire world, has never been declared a saint.

The infant Berta Hummel, who would become the famous Catholic nun and artist, was born in Bavaria in 1909 and grew up in Southern Germany, one of six children of the mayor of the town of Massing, Germany. 

She often drew pictures of children living in her village.  She also created designs for priests’ vestments and for the altar, and as the daughter of a deeply religious family, she would be drawn to convent life.

In 1915, she began schooling with Catholic nuns, and at the age of 18 in 1927, she enrolled in the famous Munch State School of Applied Arts, studying art history, watercolor and oil painting, and also textile design. 

After graduating in 1931, she entered the Franciscan convent of Siessen.  She took her vows in 1934, and when she became a novice, she was given her new name of “Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel.”

In the convent, she began to sketch drawings of children, and she later taught art in a school operated by the convent.  She printed pictures of children at play.  The nun who was the superior at her convent sent copies to a publishing company in Stuttgart that specialized in religious art.

So Sister Hummel’s first art was introduced to the public as paintings and postcards, which became very popular.  A collection of her drawings entitled “Das Hummel-Buch” was published in 1934.  The first Hummel figurnes were introduced in 1935 at the Leipzig Fair and were an exciting success.

In 1937, Sister Hummel made her final vows and produced a painting called “The Volunteers,” which Hitler disliked and banned in Germany.  She also did a drawing of angels with the Star of David on their robes and drew a series of Old and New Testament symbols for the convent chapel in 1938, symbolizing their connection with a cross behind a lit menorah.  

Hitler hated the Jews even more than he hated Catholics, and he shut down all religious schools in Germany.  He also seized the convent Sister Hummel had joined, and ousted all but 40 of the 250 sisters who lived there. 

He ordered Sister Hummel locked in a basement with cold water up to her hips to punish her for her painting, “The Volunteers,” of German youth dressed in outfits nearly identical to Nazi uniforms.  Hitler called up children as young as 12 to serve in the military, and thought she was making fun of him. 

The ruler of Germany for 12 horrible years was an offensive man who was easily offended!

Franz Goebel, owner of a porcelain shop, saw Sister Hummel’s art in Munich and asked to transfer her drawings of children and the Madonna onto plates and bells and into porcelain figurines. He secured an agreement from Sister Hummel’s convent to create the figurines from her drawings, and shared his profits with the convent.

Sister Hummel died of tuberculosis and pneumonia at age 37 in November, 1946, but her beloved figurines live on, several of them dancing with delight in our home.

God bless the soul of Sister Hummel, who brought so much joy to the lives of so many with her charming figurines!

Diocese of Dodge City

910 Central PO Box 137 Dodge City, KS 67801 | 620-227-1500

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