Wanda Gág

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Wanda Hazel Gág
Wanda Gág.jpg
Gág in December 1916
Born March 11, 1893
New Ulm, Minnesota, USA
Died June 27, 1946(1946-06-27) (aged 53)
New York City, New York
Occupation Artist, writer, translator
Nationality American
Genre Children's literature
Notable works Millions of Cats
Notable awards Newbery Honor, Caldecott Honor

Wanda Hazel Gág /ˈɡɑːɡ/ (1893–1946) was an American artist, author, translator, and illustrator. She is most noted for writing and illustrating the children’s book Millions of Cats, the oldest American picture book still in print.[1] Her books Millions of Cats and The ABC Bunny were recipients of the Newbery Honor Award and Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Nothing at All received the Caldecott Honor Award. Gág was also a noted print-maker, receiving international recognition as well as numerous awards for her prints in the 1920s and 1930s.[2] In 1940 Growing Pains, a book of edited excerpts from her diaries (covering the years 1908 to 1917), was published and received wide acclaim.[3][4]

Early life[edit]

Born March 11, 1893, in New Ulm, Minnesota,[5] to Elisabeth Biebl Gag and the artist and photographer Anton Gag, the eldest of seven children.[6] When still a teen, Gág’s illustrated story "Robby Bobby in Mother Goose Land" was published in The Minneapolis Journal in their Junior Journal supplement.[7] When Gág was fifteen 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.)[8] Following her father's death, the Gag family was on welfare and some townspeople thought that Wanda should get a steady job to help support her family. She chose to remain in school, however, graduating in June 1912. Wanda then taught country school in Springfield, Minnesota, from November 1912 to June 1913.[9]

Art school[edit]

Wanda Gág Self portrait 1915

In 1913 Gág began a platonic relationship with University of Minnesota medical student Edgar T. Herrmann who exposed her to new ideas in art, politics and philosophy.[10] From 1913 to 1914, with the aid of friends (and a scholarship), she attended The Saint Paul School of Art.[10] From 1914 to 1917 she attended The Minneapolis School of Art under the patronage of Herschel V. Jones.[11][12] While there, she became friends with Harry Gottlieb and Adolf Dehn.[13] In 1917 she completed her first illustrated book commission, A Child’s Book of Folk-Lore— Mechanics of Written English by Jean Sherwood Rankin.[14] Gág won a scholarship to the Art Students League of New York[15] and, after her graduation, she moved to New York City where she took classes in composition, etching and advertising illustration.

New York[edit]

Gág preparing lithographic stone, 1932

By 1919 she was earning a living as a commercial illustrator. She added an accent mark in her last name to aid in proper pronunciation (her last name rhymes with “bog”, not “bag”.)[16] In 1921 she became a partner in a business venture called Happiwork Story Boxes; boxes decorated with story panels on its sides.[17] An illustration of Gág’s was published in Broom: An International Magazine of the Arts in 1921.[18][19] Her art exhibition in the New York Public Library in 1923 was Gág’s first solo show.[20] She published a magazine with artist William Gropper titled Folio.[21] In 1925 her series of illustrated crossword puzzles for children was syndicated in several newspapers.[22] Gág’s one-woman-show in the Weyhe Gallery in 1926 led to her recognition as “one of America’s most promising young graphic artists” and was the start of a lifelong personal and business relationship with its manager, Carl Zigrosser.[23][24] 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.”[25][26] Gág illustrated covers of the leftist magazines The New Masses and The Liberator.[27][28] Her illustrated story Bunny's Easter Egg was published in John Martin's Book magazine for children in 1927.[29] A review of her 1929 joint show with Peggy Bacon at New York City’s Downtown Gallery stated: “Wanda Gag’s imagination leaps out from dusky shadows and terrifies with light, an emotional source difficult to analyze…”[30] Her work was recognized internationally, including inclusion in the American Institute of Graphic Arts Fifty Prints of the Year in 1928, 1929, 1931, 1932, 1936, 1937 and 1938.[31] Gág’s work continued to be shown in New York including The Museum of Modern Art 1939 exhibition Art in Our Time as well as the 1939 New York World’s Fair American Art Today show.[32]

Books for children[edit]

Gág’s work in her exhibition at the Weyhe gallery in 1928 interested Ernestine Evans, director of Coward-McCann’s new children’s book division. Evans was delighted to learn that Gág had children’s stories and illustrations in her folio. Evans asked her to submit her own story with illustrations. The result was Millions of Cats, a story developed from one that she had written to entertain the children of friends a few years earlier.[33] Published later that year, it won the Newbery Honor award, a rare achievement for a picture book.[34] It is also on the New York Public Library's 100 Great Children's Books list.[35] In 1935 Gág published the “proto-feminist”[36] Gone is Gone; or, the Story of a Man Who Wanted to Do Housework. To encourage the use of fairy-tale stories, Gág translated and illustrated Tales from Grimm in 1936. Two years later she did the same with the Grimm story Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs as a reaction against the “trivialized, sterilized, and sentimentalized” Disney movie version.[37] Her essay I Like Fairy Tales was published in the March 1939 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. In 1942, Nothing at All received a Caldecott Honor Award. More Tales from Grimm appeared posthumously in 1947. Four of her translated fairy tales were later released individually with new illustrations by Margot Tomes.

Family and personal life[edit]

Gág liked to live and work in the country. In the early 1920s she would spend her summers drawing at various locations in rural New England, New York and Connecticut.[17] 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.[38] She continued to support her unmarried adult siblings, some of whom lived with her from time to time. Wanda’s brother Howard did the hand lettering for most of her picture books and she also encouraged her sister, Flavia Gág, to write illustrated books for children.[39] In addition to her long-time paramour and business manager Earle Humphrey, Gág had other lovers, at times simultaneously: Adolph Dehn, Lewis Gannett, Carl Zigrosser, and Dr. Hugh Darby. She married Humphrey August 27, 1943.[40] In 1946 Gág died from lung cancer in New York City.


The author's childhood home in New Ulm, Minnesota, is a museum.

Gág was honored by The Horn Book Magazine in a tribute issue in 1947.[41] Gág’s papers, manuscripts and matrices are held in the Kerlan Collection[42] at the University of Minnesota, The New York Public Library, The University of Pennsylvania,[43] The Free Library of Philadelphia and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.[44] Her childhood home in New Ulm, Minnesota has been restored and is now the Wanda Gág House, a museum and interpretive center which offers tours and educational programs.[45] 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. Her prints, drawings and watercolors are in the collections of The National Gallery of Art,[46] the British Museum,[47] The Minneapolis Institute of Arts,[48] The Whitney Museum[49] as well as numerous museums around the world. In 2016 a memorial bronze sculpture of Gág and one of her cats was erected in New Ulm, Minnesota.[50]

Some artists who have been inspired by Wanda Gág are: Eric Rohmann,[51] Ursula Dubosarsky,[52] Susan Marie Swanson,[53] Jan Brett, Maurice Sendak,[54] and Ray Johnson[55]


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

Illustrator only:

  • 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

Translator only:

  • 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

Selected prints[edit]

Further reading[edit]

  • Cox, Richard W., The Bite of the Picture Book, pp. 238–254, Minnesota History Magazine, Fall, 1975[56]
  • Gág, Wanda, Growing Pains, Borealis/Minnesota Historical Society Press, Saint Paul, 1984
  • Hoyle, Karen, Wanda Gág, Twayne Publishers, 1994
  • Winnan, Audur, Wanda Gág: A Catalogue Raisonne of the Prints , Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993


  1. ^ "Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág". The Wild Place. Richland County Public Library. Retrieved 20 November 2009. 
  2. ^ Audur H. Winnan, Wanda Gág, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993, pp 72-76
  3. ^ Wanda Gág, Growing Pains. Borealis/Minnesota Historical Society Press, Saint Paul, p. xviii
  4. ^ Frances Smith. Testament of Faith, a review of Gág's Growing Pains. The Saturday Review, October 5, 1940, p. 12
  5. ^ Wanda Gág bio, Minnesota Historical Society. Accessed April 26, 2011.
  6. ^ Winnan, p. 2
  7. ^ Richard W. Cox, Minnesota History, Fall 1974, p. 250
  8. ^ Gág, p. xxxi
  9. ^ Winnan, p. 89
  10. ^ a b Winnan, p.2
  11. ^ Gág, p. 314
  12. ^ Winnan, p.4
  13. ^ Wanda Gág Papers, 1892-1968
  14. ^ Gág, p. 466
  15. ^ Gág, p. 459
  16. ^ Karen Nelson Hoyle Wanda Gág, a Life of Art and Stories pp. 8-10, University of Minnesota Press, 2009
  17. ^ a b Hoyle, pp. 10-13
  18. ^ Harold A. Loeb, New York, 1921, vol. II, no. 2
  19. ^ http://bluemountain.princeton.edu/contributions.html?titleURN=bmtnaap&authid=http://viaf.org/viaf/14845492
  20. ^ Winnan, p. 13
  21. ^ Hoyle, p. 13
  22. ^ Winnan, p. 239
  23. ^ Julie L’Enfant, The Gág Family, Afton Historical Society Press, 2002, p.123
  24. ^ The New Yorker: November 13, 1926, p. 90
  25. ^ Winnan, p. 36, 71
  26. ^ L'Enfant, p.130
  27. ^ Andrew Hemingway, Artists on the Left: American Artists and the Communist Movement 1926-1956, 2002
  28. ^ Exhibition at Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota-Duluth, 2008-9
  29. ^ John Martin's House: New York, vol. XXXV, issue no. 4
  30. ^ New York Times, December 15, 1929.
  31. ^ Winnan, pp. 72-76
  32. ^ L'Enfant, p.156
  33. ^ Winnan, p. 36
  34. ^ "Newbery Awards". Retrieved 2012-05-15. 
  35. ^ http://www.nypl.org/childrens100
  36. ^ Maria Popova. The Story of a Man Who Wanted to do Housework: A Proto-Feminist Children's Book from 1935. Brain Pickings site.
  37. ^ Silvey, Anita, The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin, 2002, p. 171
  38. ^ Winnan, pp. 71-73
  39. ^ New Ulm Journal, July 29, 2010
  40. ^ Winnan, p. 44, 55, 61
  41. ^ The Horn Book Magazine, issue 23, May–June 1947
  42. ^ Collection Index
  43. ^ [1]
  44. ^ Chevalier, Tracy (editor), Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, St. James Press, 1989, p. 370
  45. ^ Wanda Gág House, accessed June 2012
  46. ^ Research Collection
  47. ^ Research Collection
  48. ^ Minneapolis Institute of Arts
  49. ^ [2]
  50. ^ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHGFDmxqqDQ
  51. ^ Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast » Blog Archive » Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #65: Author/Illustrator Eric Rohmann
  52. ^ Ursula Dubosarsky
  53. ^ The House in the Night board book ISBN 0547577699
  54. ^ Wanda Gág’s ‘Millions of Cats’ — An American Classic for Children | One-Minute Book Reviews
  55. ^ Robert Pincus-Witten, Artforum, February 2015
  56. ^ http://collections.mnhs.org/MNHistoryMagazine/articles/44/v44i07p238-254.pdf

External links[edit]