In the 1920 and ‘30s, a Bavarian nun named Sister Maria Innocentia Hummel drew sketches capturing the innocence and charm of the children around her. As her sketches grew popular, German porcelain maker Franz Goebel began producing them in figurines – each piece subject to Sister Maria’s approval.
But while her sketches were lighthearted, her days grew darker. Sister Maria endured Nazi persecution and the deprivations of World War II. A lack of heat and food contributed to her deteriorating health, but she refused to leave her convent community, and she died in 1946, age 37, from tuberculosis. Despite the hardships, her love of childhood joys – a game of ring around the rosy, a little girl on laundry day, a boy hiking through the woods – endured in the famous Hummel figurines.
The Hummel legacy lives on at Homeland Center, where residents and visitors enjoy a display of more than 150 Hummel figurines and plates donated by resident Lou Hepschmidt in memory of her husband, John Hepschmidt.
“Other places did not have the same ambience and décor that Homeland has, and the same treatment of the residents,” she says. “I am so pleased with the way they treat everybody here. I know I’m treated royally. I have often told people to be careful what you ask for, because you’re going to get it, whether you want it or not. That’s the way they are here. The Hummel collection fits right in.”
John Hepschmidt started collecting Hummels during Chamber of Commerce trips to Germany in the 1950s. Lou picked up the habit after they married in 1966 and, she admits, “kind of got carried away.” Her first purchase with her own money depicted a young mail clerk. She expanded the collection by buying pieces that reflected her interests and family life.
“Mostly, I bought figures that represented what I did,” she says. “Some might be knitting or doing cross-stitch, which I like to do.”
The collection grew so large that the Hepschmidts had two massive cabinets built for their dining and living rooms. After she chose to live at Homeland, Lou felt that the collection – with each piece hand-painted to exacting standards – belonged there, too.
The two cabinets were transported to Homeland, and there, Hepschmidt arranged the display as exactingly as any Hummel artisan, pairing plates with matching figurines. In the Homeland Center chapel, a small cabinet was installed for religious-themed figurines. At Christmastime, Hepschmidt arranges a Hummel nativity scene.
Hepschmidt knew that Homeland Center would respect the precious collection built piece by piece with her husband. Sometimes, she gives talks for residents to enjoy, sharing the fascinating history behind the porcelain.
“Everybody I talk to tells me they love them, and every time they look, they see a different one,” she says. “It’s a history lesson, along with the beauty of the pieces.”