The Museum Feature this month is our collection of three “jumbo” M.I. Hummel figurines: Merry Wanderer, Apple Tree Boy, and Apple Tree Girl. These Hummel figurines are incredibly detailed, and range in size from 30 to 32 inches tall, making them among the rarest and most expensive of the Hummels produced. These models were originally crafted by master sculptor Arthur Moeller between 1935 and 1940. And, like all of Goebel’s Hummel figurines, they are based on the artwork of Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel.
Sister Hummel was born Berta Hummel in the small village of Massing, Bavaria in 1909. Early in life, Berta’s parents recognized and fostered her artistic talent. Berta’s mother described her as a “lovable, blond-haired, beautiful child, extremely lively. Most of all she liked to paint... a bunch of pretty flowers, a pleasing child’s face, a beautiful evening mood, an autumnal forest. All these things could delight her and she would stand and look and look, for what seemed like an eternity.” By the time she was ten years old, classmates were begging her to draw caricatures of them. When she was twelve, Berta attended the Institute of English Sisters – a boarding school where her artistic talent was further developed. After graduating from the Institute, Berta enrolled in the prestigious Academy of Applied Arts in Munich. There, she lived in a boardinghouse with two nuns who had come to Munich to train as art teachers. In 1931, Berta graduated from the academy at the top of her class. She was asked to stay and teach there, but, influenced by the life of the nuns in her boardinghouse, Berta decided instead to enter the Franciscan Convent of Siessen.
While at the convent, Berta continued pursuing her art along with her other responsibilities. Berta painted mostly religious works there, but never stopped sketching children – especially the children at St. Anna, a girls school near the convent where Berta taught art. In 1931, Berta took the name Maria Innocentia. The sisters in the convent recognized her talent and encouraged her to work to get her artwork in front of a wider audience. Her work was sent to a Munich publishing house that specialized in religious art, where the works were published as postcards. Subsequent sales of Sister Hummel’s art helped fund the convent’s teaching and missionary efforts. In 1934, a collection of her art was published in a book titled, “Das Hummel-Buch.” It was this book that caught the attention of Franz Goebel, the owner of W. Goebel Porzellanfabrik, a German porcelain factory.
Goebel dates back to 1871, when Franz Detleff Goebel founded the company in the German village of Oeslau. First producing items like slates and pencils, the firm installed its first kiln in 1879. When Franz’s son, William, joined him in the business, the two dedicated themselves to the production of fine porcelain. The company soon expanded to make dinnerware and figurines. When William’s grandson, Franz, became owner of the company in 1929, he began looking for a way to save the business, which was struggling during the economic downturn in Germany following WWI. When one of the factory’s workers showed Franz “Das Hummel-Buch,” he was struck with an idea that he thought could save his business. Knowing that idyllic figurines of mirthful children would appeal to German residents yearning to return to happier times, Franz commissioned his sculptors to make figurines based on Sister Hummel’s art. He then presented these figurines to Sister Hummel with a proposal to grant him the exclusive rights to the three-dimensional depictions of her art work. Sister Hummel agreed, and began working with the Goebel sculptors to develop the new line of figurines. The figurines were first introduced in 1935 at the Leipzig Spring Fair, a major international trade show, where they became an immediate success.
The Nazi regime, which was consolidating its power in Germany at the time, disapproved of Sister Hummel’s art. Adolf Hitler himself even attacked her work, condemning what he felt was her portrayal of German children as soft and weak. In 1940, the Nazis closed all of the Franciscan schools and occupied the Convent of Siessen. During this period, Sister Hummel was confined to a small bedroom that doubled as her studio. Food was scarce during the occupation, and the winters were especially harsh. Sister Hummel’s health began to decline, and she never fully recovered. In 1946, at the age of 37, she died of tuberculosis. After WWII, Sister Hummel’s figurines gained considerable popularity in the U.S. when returning serviceman brought them home as souvenirs for loved ones. Today, Sister Hummel’s artistic legacy lives on as Hummel figurines continue to be highly sought by collectors around the world.
The jumbo Hummel figurines in our museum are very rare and not for sale, but we do have smaller but still gorgeous versions of Apple Tree Boy , Apple Tree Girl , and Merry Wanderer available for purchase in our inventory. Replacements, Ltd. also carries a wide selection of other Hummel figurines and Goebel items that are available for purchase. And remember that we always invite you to visit our facilities – here you’ll see a stunning variety of silver, china, crystal, and collectibles! Our retail store and museum are open from 9:00am to 7:00pm ET, 7 days a week (except holidays); free tours are available from 10:00am to 6:00pm ET, 7 days a week. The retail store and museum are conveniently located between Greensboro and Burlington, NC, at exit 132 off Interstate 85/40. We look forward to seeing you!