Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel was born Berta Hummel in 1909 in Massing in Bavaria, Germany. She was one of six children of Adolf and Victoria Hummel, who lived in a small apartment over the family business. From an early age, she exhibited a great artistic talent and was known as the local artist in the village. She had a happy and bright mind and loved being outdoors, which was reflected in her art and is still reflected in both the plates and figurines that were based on her art.
Her parents supported her artistic interests and, at the age of 12, they sent her to an art school, run by the Sisters of Loreto at Simbach am Inn, about 30 kilometers from Massing. Her artistic skills grew, and in 1927 she joined the Academy of Applied Arts in Munich.
Because Berta Hummel was a devout Catholic, she chose to live in a Catholic residence run by nuns rather than a regular ordinary student residence. Here she became friends with two members of the Franciscan sister order of Siessen in Bad Salgau, who, like her, studied at the art academy. The sister's order focused on teaching, especially in art, and after she had graduated the art academy in 1931, Berta Hummel chose to apply for admission to the sister's order. Here she was admitted as a novice in August of the same year.
After her novitate year, she was introduced as a teacher at the nearby art school, which was run by the monastery. In her spare time, she drew little drawing of children, which impressed her sisters so much that they sent copies of her works to a publishing house in Stuttgart, specialized in religious art. The publisher was very excited and convinced Hummel to allow them to print her drawings on postcards. Postcards were very popular at the time and postcards with Hummel's drawings quickly became very popular. In 1934, a book was even published with Hummel's drawings.
It was at this time that Franz Goebel, after seeing the postcards in Munich, contacted the monastery and sister Hummel to obtain the right to produce Hummel figurines. This succeeded and Goebel was granted exclusive rights to the production of the figurines. The figurines were first presented at the Leipzig fair in 1935 and quickly became popular. This popularity would continue in the United States ten years later, when US soldiers brought the figurines home with them from postings in Germany.
However, Hummel's drawings and figurines did not only experience success. The national socialist rulers in Germany did not have much love for the drawings, which were considered decadent art, because they did not have the correct representation of the German youth. This escalated in 1937, as Hummel made her profession to be a nun, when Adolf Hitler personally attacked her art. It did not help that Sister Hummel also painted pictures that contained the star of David and decorated the monastery with symbols from both the Old and New Testaments.
However, this negative perception of Hummel's art did not prevent the regime from confiscating half of the revenues from the drawings. In 1940, the government closed all religious schools and the monastery of Siessen was seized. A wing of the monastery, however, the nuns were allowed to keep, where 40 of the initially 250 nuns continued to live and pray. Hummel herself was initially sent home to her family, where she stayed for three months before returning to the monastery. The Hummel drawings were the only sourch of income for the monastery at the time, but there was a lack of both food and heating, which in 1944 caused Hummel to be infected with tuberculosis and she was hospitalised. She returned to the monastery shortly before it was liberated by French troops. However, she recover from the tuberculosis and died in 1946 and was buried at the monastery's cemetery.
However, Goebel, his art department and the sisters on the monastery maintained Hummel's legacy by continuing the production of Hummel figurines and later also releasing the Hummel plates.
Hummel's sister Crescentia Hummel set up a museum for her art in the family home in Massing.