|Occupations||Writer Painter Printmaker Visual artist Children's writer|
|Countries||United States of America|
|A.K.A.||Wanda Hazel Gag, Wanda Hazel Gág, Wanda Gag|
|Birth||March 11, 1893 (New Ulm, Brown County, Minnesota, U.S.A.)|
|Death||June 27, 1946 (New York City, New York, U.S.A.)|
|Education||Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Art Students League of New York|
|Notable Works||Millions of Cats|
Wanda Hazel Gág (March 11, 1893–June 27, 1946) was an American artist, author, translator, and illustrator. She is best known for writing and illustrating the children's book Millions of Cats, the oldest American picture book still in print. Gág was also a noted printmaker, receiving international recognition and awards. Growing Pains, a book of excerpts from the diaries of her teen and young adult years, received critical acclaim. Her books were awarded Newbery Honors and Caldecott Honors.
Born March 11, 1893, in New Ulm, Minnesota, to Elisabeth Biebl Gag and the artist and photographer Anton Gag, the eldest of seven children. When still a teen, her illustrated story Robby Bobby in Mother Goose Land was published in The Minneapolis Journal in their Junior Journal supplement. When she was 15, her father died of tuberculosis; his final words to her were: "Was der Papa nicht thun konnt', muss die Wanda halt fertig machen." (What Papa couldn't do, Wanda will have to finish.) Following Anton's death the Gag family was on welfare and some townspeople thought that Wanda should quit high school and get a steady job to help support her family. Despite this pressure, Wanda continued her studies. After graduating (in 1912) she taught country school in Springfield, Minnesota, from November 1912 to June 1913.
In 1913 Gág met University of Minnesota medical student Edgar T. Herrmann who beacame her "…closest friend, companion, confidant, and advisor." Herrmann exposed her to new ideas in art, politics and philosophy. With a scholarship (and the aid of friends), she attended The Saint Paul School of Art in 1913 and 1914. From 1914 to 1917 she attended The Minneapolis School of Art under the patronage of Herschel V. Jones. While there, she became friends with Harry Gottlieb and Adolf Dehn. In 1917, Gág completed her first illustrated book commission (A Child’s Book of Folk-Lore— Mechanics of Written English by Jean Sherwood Rankin.) She also won a scholarship to the Art Students League of New York where she took classes in composition, etching and advertising illustration.
In 1917 Gág moved to New York City and by 1919 she was earning her living as a commercial illustrator. In 1921 she became a partner in a business venture called Happiwork Story Boxes; boxes decorated with story panels on its sides. An illustration of Gág's was published in Broom: An International Magazine of the Arts in 1921. Her art exhibition in the New York Public Library in 1923 was Gág's first solo show. Around this time she began using an accent mark in her last name to indicate its proper pronunciation: "Gahg". In 1924 Gág published a short-lived folio-style magazine with artist William Gropper. In 1925 her series of illustrated crossword puzzles for children was syndicated in several newspapers. Gág's one-woman-show in the Weyhe Gallery in 1926 led to her being acclaimed as "… one of America’s most promising young graphic artists… " and was the start of a lifelong relationship with its manager, Carl Zigrosser. Gág began to sell numerous lithographs, linoleum block prints, water colors and drawings through the gallery. In 1927 her article These Modern Women: A Hotbed of Feminists was published in The Nation, drawing the attention of Alfred Stieglitz and prompting the publisher and designer Egmont Arens to write: "The way you solved that problem (her relationship with men) seems to me to be the most illuminating part of your career. You have done what all the other ‘modern women’ are still talking about." Gág illustrated covers of the leftist magazines The New Masses and The Liberator. In 1928 Gág hand-colored some of Rockwell Kent's illustrations in a limited edition of Candide. In a New York Times review, Elisabeth Luther Cary described Gág's print Stone Crusher: "Pure imagination leaps out from dusky shadows and terrifies with light, an emotional source difficult to analyze." Her work was recognized internationally and was selected for inclusion in the American Institute of Graphic Arts Fifty Prints of the Year in 1928, 1929, 1931, 1932, 1936, 1937 and 1938. Gág's work was shown at The Museum of Modern Art 1939 exhibition Art in Our Time and the 1939 New York World's Fair American Art Today show.
Works for children
In 1927 Gág's illustrated story Bunny's Easter Egg was published in John Martin's Book magazine for children. Gág's work caught the attention of Ernestine Evans, director of Coward-McCann's children's book division. Evans was delighted to learn that Gág had children's stories and illustrations in her folio and asked her to submit her own story with illustrations. The result, Millions of Cats, was published in 1928. It had been developed from a story that Gág had written to entertain the children of friends. Anne Carol Moore (in the New York Herald Tribune) wrote: "… It bears all the hallmarks of becoming a perennial favorite among children, and it takes a place of its own, both for the originality and strength of its pictures and the living folk-tale quality of its text. A book of universal interest to children living anywhere in the world." Millions of Cats is on the New York Public Library's list of 100 Great Children's Books. In 1935 Gág published the "proto-feminist" Gone is Gone; or, the Story of a Man Who Wanted to Do Housework. To encourage the reading of fairy-tales, Gág translated and illustrated Tales from Grimm in 1936. Critic Humbert Wolfe, commenting on Gág's translation, wrote: "From the very first page it was clear that Miss Gág was chopping away a perfect brushwood of clumsy phraseology to let in the light." Two years later she translated and illustrated the Grimm story "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" in reaction to the "trivialized, sterilized, and sentimentalized" Disney movie version. Her essay "I Like Fairy Tales" was published in the March 1939 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. More Tales from Grimm (with some of the illustrations unfinished), was published posthumously in 1947. Four of her translated fairy tales were later released with illustrations by Margot Tomes.
Gág is widely considered to be a pioneer in the development of the picture book form. Prior to Millions of Cats, illustrated books generally had text on the left page with pictures on the right. Gag integrated the text with the pictures while stretching them across a double page.
Gág liked to live and work in the country. In the early 1920s she spent summers drawing at various locations in rural New York and Connecticut. She rented a three-acre farm ("Tumble Timbers") in Glen Gardner, New Jersey from 1925 to 1930 and later purchased a larger farm (“All Creation”) in Milford, New Jersey in 1931. She continued to support her unmarried adult siblings, some of whom lived with her from time to time. Gág's brother Howard did the hand lettering for most of her picture books; she also encouraged her sister, Flavia Gág, to write illustrated books for children. In addition to her long-time paramour and business manager Earle Humphrey, Gág had, at various times, other lovers: Adolph Dehn, Lewis Gannett, Carl Zigrosser, and Dr. Hugh Darby. She married Humphrey August 27, 1943. In 1946 Gág died from lung cancer in New York City.
Gág was honored by The Horn Book Magazine in a tribute issue in 1947. Her childhood home in New Ulm, Minnesota has been restored and is now the Wanda Gág House, a museum and interpretive center that offers tours and educational programs. In 1992 Millions of Cats was featured on the television series Shelly Duvall's Bedtime Stories, narrated by James Earl Jones. A bronze sculpture of Gág with one of her cats (by Jason Jaspersen) was erected in New Ulm, Minnesota in 2016. In 2017 The Sandbox Theatre in Minneapolis produced In The Treetops, a new play centered on Gág's childhood years.
The books Millions of Cats and The ABC Bunny were recipients of a Newbery Honor. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Nothing at All received a Caldecott Honor. Wanda was posthumously honored with The Lewis Carroll Shelf Award in 1958 and The Kerlan Award in 1977. The Wanda Gág Read Aloud Book Award is awarded each year by the University of Minnesota, Moorhead. In 2018, Gág was posthumously honored with The Museum of Illustration at the Society of Illustrators Original Art Lifetime Achievement Award.
Gág's prints, drawings, and watercolors are in the collections of The National Gallery of Art, the British Museum, The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, The Whitney Museum and other museums around the world. Gág's papers, manuscripts and matrices are held in the Kerlan Collection at the University of Minnesota, The New York Public Library, The University of Pennsylvania, The Free Library of Philadelphia and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.
Writer and illustrator:
- Batiking at Home: a Handbook for Beginners, Coward McCann, 1926
- Millions of Cats, Coward McCann, 1928
- The Funny Thing, Coward McCann, 1929
- Snippy and Snappy, Coward McCann, 1931
- Wanda Gág’s Storybook (includes Millions of Cats, The Funny Thing, Snippy and Snappy), Coward McCann, 1932
- The ABC Bunny, Coward McCann, 1933
- Gone is Gone; or, the Story of a Man Who Wanted to Do Housework, Coward McCann, 1935
- Growing Pains: Diaries and Drawings for the Years 1908-1917, Coward McCann, 1940
- Nothing At All, Coward McCann, 1941
Translator and illustrator:
- Tales from Grimm, Coward McCann, 1936
- Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Coward McCann, 1938
- Three Gay Tales from Grimm, Coward McCann, 1943
- More Tales from Grimm, Coward McCann, 1947
- A Child’s Book of Folk-Lore— Mechanics of Written English, by Jean Sherwood Rankin, Augsburg, 1917
- The Oak by the Waters of Rowan, by Spencer Kellogg Jr, Aries Press, New York, 1927
- The Day of Doom, by Michael Wigglesworth, Spiral Press, 1929
- Pond Image and Other Poems, by Johan Egilsrud, Lund Press, Minneapolis, 1943
- The Six Swans, illustrations by Margot Tomes, Coward, McCann & Geoghegan, 1974
- Wanda Gág's Jorinda and Joringel, illustrations by Margot Tomes, Putnam, 1978
- Wanda Gag's the Sorcerer's Apprentice illustrations by Margot Tomes, Putnam, 1979
- Wanda Gag's The Earth Gnome, illustrations by Margot Tomes, Putnam, 1985