ever seen one of the little Hummel figurines? For a long time, one of Germany’s
big-number export items. Very popular with Americans, but not only there. Out of production for a while, but back now.
|In the window of our local pawn shop: Hummel figurines|
moved to the little town where we live now, I knew very little about Berta
Hummel, except for that she had designed these figurines. Having outgrown the
age when I liked them, I was surprised to see a sign for a “Berta Hummelmuseum”
in an even
smaller town about 15 miles down the highway. Not a museum I would ever be going to, I
surprise when, a couple of years later, a full-page article in “Die Zeit”, a
renowned German weekly praised Berta Hummel and her artistic talents, including
a large scale version of the following picture:
|"Lady in Red" by Berta Hummel,|
photo taken from postcard
bought at the museum
stunned. Then I “met” her again when I happened to be near Sießen in Allgäu,
where they told us that she had lived there in the convent, and died there just
after World War II, and eventually went to see the museum, and started doing a
bit of research. I found it hard to understand how somebody with so much talent
would take a decision to enter the convent.
interlibrary loan I took out this bilingual book on her life, which also
features a lot of pictures.
Hummel was born in Massing, grew up as one of six siblings, and must have been
a really wild one during her childhood.
|Berta Hummel as a child, picture taken from the book|
She went to school in a Catholic
boarding school, where her artistic talent, which had been obvious early on,
was recognized and supported. But her lack of conduct was repeatedly mentioned
in reports home. And then she went to study at the Munich Academy
for the Applied Arts – certainly not a ‘usual’ path to follow for a girl from
the country in those times.
|Berta Hummel's graduation piece: |
a textile wall hanging depicting her home town Massing
(picutre taken from postcard)
Not much is
known about her time in Munich
but she did meet two nuns who had come back to the academy to continue their
studies, they became friends, she moved in with them in their boarding house,
and eventually Berta Hummel decided to take the veil. Her professors were
surprised and disappointed, would have wanted her to continue her promising art
career. She did follow her art in the convent, working in the workshop for
a few years at the convent, even before she had taken the final vows, her
drawings of little children were discovered by a Munich art publisher, first printed as little
cards to give away, then published in a book.
|Berta Hummel in habit with children at the pre-school where she worked, |
picture taken from the book
|Berta Hummel's drawing of "Christchild with angels", taken|
from the book
Big rage, very successful. And
then the porcelain company jumped onto the wagon, started making figurines,
which brought in a lot of money for the convent. The publisher and the
porcelain company kept pressing her for more and more pictures, even started
fighting over the first rights to these pictures.
didn’t like the figurines, but let them be sold to foreign contries to bring in
revenues. And after the war, American soldiers bought them and brought them
back to the States.
couldn’t save Berta, though, who had fallen ill during the war, when the
convent had been expelled from their buildings, caught tuberculosis, and died
in November 1946, just a few months before penicillin became so widely
available that it perhaps might have saved her life.
don’t understand how a talented woman – who used to be a ‘wild girl’! – would
decide to take the veil, subjecting herself to the severe rules of a convent,
and her artistic talent to thematic restrictions. Perhaps eighty years in history just bar the understanding of thought processes that would lead one such a way.
Germany was going through very hard
times after the war, but it is mentioned in the book that Berta once told her
visiting sister “They are letting me die here all by myself!”, thus indicating
that she did not receive proper attention during her long sickness. Later on,
she was admitted to specialist clinics, but it was too late. That’s what I
understand least of all – why would they let her die so miserably like that
instead of making sure she received all proper and possible treatment, after
she had brought in so much revenue for the convent?