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Hummel Dolls - A Story of "Hummelitis"
( Article orginally published August 1962 )
What could be the most complete collection of Hummels in the United States-possibly in the world-is the prized possession of a Northville, (Mich.) woman.
Just What are Hummels? Most people know and describe them as porcelain figures, winsome little china people, bright eyed and ruddy cheeked, clad in homespun clothes in short, a family of charming peasants who live on knickknack shelves the world over.
Not so, corrects Elizabeth Etz, school teacher, minister and owner of 600 "real" Hummels, including four originals
Authentic Hummels, explains Miss Etz, are pictures; they are poignant sketches, mostly of people, done by Berta Hummel, a German girl who devoted her life to the church. Though the name Hummel is popularly associated with figurines, Miss Etz points out that the artist actually made only one three-dimensional figure, a representation of the Christ Child called the Infant of Krumbad. She fashioned this while a nun- Sister Innocentia - at the Franciscan convent in Siessen.
As far as she can determine, Miss Etz is but one Hummel away from having a complete collection. While studying a book containing sketches by the German artist, she discovered one drawing of an infant which she does not have.
Those she has accumulated represent years of sleuthing punctuated with hope, success, irony and even death. Her inquiries for the treasured prints have spanned the ocean, generated new friendships and brought her as close as letters can to the loved ones of the talented Sister Innocentia.
Miss Etz teaches at the Wayne County Training School. An ordained minister in the Universalist-Unitarian church, she is also the school's Protestant chaplain.
Her interest in Hummels started with a gift of two prints from Mrs. Marcella Douglas, (Northville). Slowly, whenever she chanced upon others, Miss Etz added to those first two. She got her first real lead nearly 15 years ago through an article in HOBBIES Magazine.
The article told of a Sister Mary Callista at Mundelein College in Chicago and the vast number of Hummels she had acquired. Miss Etz wrote to Sister Callista, beginning a friendship and prodigious stream of letters that continued until the nun's death four years ago.
Sympathizing with what she recognized as another "bad case of Hummelitis," the sister contributed to her Northville friend's collection. She forwarded duplicates from her own collection and still others which she obtained from Germany.
Sister Callista, Miss Etz explains, had continual contact with the convent at Siessen. Berta Hummel entered Siessen in the early thirties and died there in 1946 at the age of 37. She had studied art at the Simbach secondary school and later went to Munich to attend the State Industrial school. She did the majority of her drawings after joining the convent, said Miss Etz, and might have continued on for several more years had it not been for Hitler's rise to power in Germany.
"In 1940 the Nazis took over the convent. The nuns were relegated to small quarters and many of them were dispersed to their homes, including Berta. Unhappy at her home in Massing, Berta appealed to her mother superior for permission to return to Siessen.
"She was permitted to return, but with the poor living conditions-the nuns had only the barest necessities - she contracted pleurisy and died."
Sister Callista's death in 1958 was a double loss to Miss Etz. Not only did she lose a friend, but her slim link with the artist's home was severed and her primary source of prints no longer available.
Her collection came to a virtual standstill, recalls Miss Etz. She did get some help, nevertheless, from three German girls who stayed in this country a brief time on exchange programs.
"After returning home, they carried my list of cards and sent me Hummels which I did not yet have," added Miss Etz gratefully.
Finally in 1960, Miss Etz contacted the Siessen convent. A Sister Mary Laura Brugger answered her letter. She sent along four of Berta Hummel's original sketches and a religious medal taken from the artist's paintbox.
Sister Laura wrote that she and another nun had studied with Berta in Munich.
Save for a letter from Berta Hummel's brother this was perhaps the closest Miss Etz had come to knowing the artist. It was to be a brief friendship, however.
Sister Laura's letter to Northville was her last. She died suddenly and unexpectedly the day after mailing it.
Miss Etz learned of the sister's death from another nun, Sister Witberga, with whom she is still corresponding.
"My big dream now," says Miss Etz, "is to go to Germany and visit the convent."
Man wonders over the restless sea, the flowing water, the sight of sky; and forgets that of all wonders man himself is the most wonderful.