The Goebel Company opened its doors over a century ago in 1871 at the foot of the Coburg Castle in Oeslau. Then known simply as F&W Goebel, after its co-founders Franz Detleff and his son William Goebel, the first items produced were slates, slate pencils and marbles.
Soon, as a result of dynamic management and progressive thinking, Goebel expanded its production first to include porcelain coffee services, milk pitchers and eggcups and later porcelain figurines. It was the addition of these figurines, which helped the company to gain international recognition.
M.I. Hummel products are the result of a successful partnership between W.Goebel Porzellanfabrik and a talented German artist, Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel. Her images of youthful innocence have been transformed by the Master Artists of Goebel into original M.I. Hummel works of art.
Berta Hummel was born in Bavaria in 1909 with a wonderful gift -- an instinct for observing her world and translating her observations into drawings, especially of children. In 1927, Berta enrolled in Munich's famed Academy of Applied Arts. There her talent matured and survived rigid training with its spontaneity intact.
Religion had always been important to Berta. She befriended two Franciscan Sisters from a teaching order that emphasized the arts. Berta decided to enter the Convent of Siessen upon graduation in 1931, and three years later, took the name Maria Innocentia.
The young Sister found herself in a setting that encouraged her talents. Soon, small German publishers began printing some of her artwork in the form of postcards.
In 1934, Franz Goebel was searching for something new. Like his predecessors at the helm of W.Goebel Porzellanfabrik, Franz understood his market. He believed that in a world of political turmoil, customers would respond to a product depicting the gentle innocence of children.
The artwork of a Franciscan Sister, Maria Innocentia Hummel, a gifted, academy-trained artist, came to Franz's attention. Her drawings of country children had been printed as art cards and were becoming quite popular. An enthusiastic Franz, with the approval of senior sculptors Arthur Moeller and Reinhold Unger, decided to pursue the creation of figurines based on the artwork of Sister M.I.Hummel.
The artist was contacted at her home, the Convent of Siessen, and shown clay models. With assurances that she would personally approve the sculpting and painting of each piece...that a facsimile of her signature would appear on each piece...and that Franz Goebel himself would oversee the production process, Sister Hummel and the Convent of Siessen granted sole rights to Goebel to create ceramic figurines based on her original artwork.
A new palette of warm colours was created to duplicate the tone and feeling of the artwork. It was determined that earthenware, pioneered by Goebel in the 1920's, was the proper medium for the new line. Moeller and Unger became the "fathers" of M.I.Hummel figurines, their work based on friendly and frank cooperation with Sister Hummel.
The new product line was launched in March 1935, at the Leipzig Spring Fair -- a major show for the industry. The reception to the first M.I.Hummel motifs was enthusiastic. The line was an immediate success!
When World War II began, the German government allowed M.I.Hummel figurines to be made for export only and directed Goebel to produce dinnerware for the military. Despite hardships, the Goebel family maintained their relationship with Sister Hummel, and some new figurines were modelled and approved. The artist's fragile health suffered during the war years, when fuel was scarce and she was forced to work in a cold, unheated space.
It took time for Germany to recover once the war ended. But the German people slowly began to spruce up their homes and exchange gifts. They remembered the timeless appeal of M.I.Hummel figurines and asked for them in shops. American soldiers occupying Germany wanted mementos to send home. M.I.Hummel figurines were in demand once again.
In 1946, following a prolonged respiratory illness eventually diagnosed as tuberculosis, Sister M.I. Hummel died at age 37. Despite this tragedy, the production of her beloved figurines never ceased. Sister Hummel was a prolific artist and left behind a treasure-trove of drawings on which to base new figurines. The Convent of Siessen appointed an Artistic Board to carry out the legacy of Sister Hummel. This board would approve all clay models and painted figurines. And so they are, to this day.
And M.I.Hummel figurines continue to charm the world.