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Berta Hummel and Her Famous Figurines continued

Friday’s Child and Her Biographer
By Carol Ann Morrow

Mischief is brewing between Sister Hummel and her pupils.

Photo © Kloster Sießen

Viktoria Hummel kept alive her love for a daughter who died early by writing long letters about her “Bertl.” Berta Hummel’s first biography in the English language was based on letters between Viktoria Hummel and Sister Mary Gonsalva Wiegand, a Franciscan Sister whose own parents were also from Bavaria.

Viktoria Hummel’s letters and notes, handwritten in German, are translated and preserved in the private archives of the Sisters of St. Francis, Oldenburg, Indiana, the congregation to which Sister Gonsalva, who died in 1972, belonged.

Less than a year after the death of Sister Hummel, Sister Gonsalva began a correspondence with Viktoria Hummel which lasted nearly 25 years, dwindling as the two, close in age, grew older. That correspondence became the heart of her book, Sketch Me, Berta Hummel.

In her first letter, Mrs. Hummel told Sister Gonsalva that she had just written a lengthy letter to Martha Goeser, also of Indiana. Ms. Goeser was a private nurse to a wealthy family who lived near the campus of Marian College in Indianapolis, where Sister Gonsalva taught. The letter to Ms. Goeser, who was researching materials for a lecture, was shared with her friend Sister Gonsalva, whose interest was aroused.

In her letter to Ms. Goeser, Mrs. Hummel writes: “Berta’s imagination could drape shawls and bedsheets into king’s capes and fairy veils. She was fresh and quick in movement. When she saw something, she forgot herself—a couple pretty flowers, a cute child’s face, a beautiful evening mood, a fall woods—all this could bring delight and rapture as she stood long, looking and looking, so that she had to be called back with her nickname, ‘Shower Friday’ (she was born during a downpour on a Friday).”

In that same letter, Mrs. Hummel writes of her daughter’s entrance into religious life: “We were worried about her, the fresh, happy girl, bubbling full of love, of life and joy. I often asked myself, ‘Won’t she feel the convent walls too confining?’ But the letters from the Siessen convent later satisfied and calmed us.”

Sister Gonsalva’s first letter from Viktoria Hummel is dated June 2, 1947. Mrs. Hummel writes, “Little Hummel saw with brighter eyes, felt with a more open heart her rich talent....Soon she was able to make visible what she felt and saw.”

This letter may have convinced Sister Gonsalva to make a firm commitment to a book-length biography. She began a correspondence (in German) not only with the artist’s mother but also with the superior of the Siessen convent and others who knew Sister Hummel. Sister Gonsalva’s congregation sent gift packages to the Franciscans at Siessen to help the sisters who suffered, as did all of Germany, from the effects of the war.

Sister Gonsalva Wiegand never visited Germany, never met Berta Hummel or her mother Viktoria. Yet through her diligent correspondence and biography, she has connected many to the young artist with whom she shared a love of St. Francis.

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