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 which won a Newbery Honor Award and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award. It is the oldest American picture book still in print.[1] The ABC Bunny also received a Newbery Honor Award. Her books Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and Nothing at All each won a Caldecott Honor Award. In 1940 a book of edited excerpts from her diaries (covering the years 1908 to 1917) was published as Growing Pains; it received wide acclaim.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Born March 11, 1893 in New Ulm, Minnesota,[4] to Elisabeth Biebl Gag and the artist and photographer Anton Gag. She was the eldest of seven children.[5] When still a young teen Gág’s illustrated story Robby Bobby in Mother Goose Land was published in The Minneapolis Journal in their Junior Journal supplement.[6] Gág was fifteen when 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.)[7] Following her father’s death, the Gag family was on welfare, and many people suggested that Wanda get a steady job. In spite of these events, she remained in school, graduating in June 1912. Wanda then taught country school in Springfield, Minnesota from November 1912 to June 1913.[8]

Art school[edit]

In 1913 Gág began a platonic relationship with Edgar T. Herrmann (a University of Minnesota medical student), who exposed her to new ideas in art, politics and philosophy.[9] From 1913 to 1914, with the aid of friends and a scholarship, she attended The Saint Paul School of Art.[9] From 1914 to 1917 she attended The Minneapolis School of Art under the patronage of Herschel V. Jones.[10][11] While there she met Harry Gottlieb as well as Adolf Dehn, who would later become her lover.[12] In 1917, she won a scholarship to the Art Students League of New York[13] as well as her first book commission, illustrating A Child’s Book of Folk-Lore— Mechanics of Written English by Jean Sherwood Rankin.[14] Gág moved to Greenwich Village. At the Art Students League 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. Around this time she added an accent mark in her last name to aid in proper pronunciation (her last name rhymes with “bog”, not “wag”.)[15] In 1921 she became a partner in a business venture called Happiwork Story Boxes; boxes decorated with story panels in the sides.[16] An illustration of Gág’s was published in Broom: An International Magazine of the Arts[17] in 1921. Her art exhibition in the New York Public Library in 1923 was Gág’s first solo show.[18] She published a magazine with artist William Gropper titled Folio, it lasted one issue.[19] In 1925 she had a series of illustrated crossword puzzles for children syndicated in several newspapers.[20] Her 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 relationship with Carl Zigrosser, its manager.[21][22] 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 Egmont Arens to write about her relationship with men: “… The way you solved that problem 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.”[23][24] Gág illustrated covers of the leftist magazines The New Masses and The Liberator.[25][26] Her illustrated story Bunny's Easter Egg was published in John Martin's Book magazine for children in 1927.[27] 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…”[28] 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.[29] 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.[30]

Books for children[edit]

Gág’s work interested Ernestine Evans, director of Coward-McCann’s new children’s book division. Evans disliked the common children’s books of the day, and was looking for new authors and artists to create more realistic, less idealized books. She wanted Gág to illustrate a new edition of an older book, but Gág refused, saying “I am simply not interested in illustration as such... It has to be a story that takes hold of me way down deep”.[31] Evans asked her to submit her own story with illustrations. Millions of Cats appeared in 1928. It won the Newbery Honor award, a rare achievement for a picture book.[32] In 1935 Gág published the “proto-feminist”[33] Gone is Gone; or, the Story of a Man Who Wanted to Do Housework. Some educators of the time disparaged fairy tales, preferring more realistic literature for children.[34] Gág disagreed. “I know I should feel bitterly cheated if, as a child, I had been deprived of all fairy lore...”[35] To encourage the use of these 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.[36] Her essay I Like Fairy Tales was published in the March 1939 issue of The Horn Book Magazine. Nothing at All became a Caldecott Honor book for 1942. 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.[16] She rented a three-acre farm in Glen Gardner New Jersey from 1925 to 1930 (“Tumble Timbers”) and purchased a larger farm (“All Creation”) in Milford, New Jersey in 1931.[37] 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.[38] Starting in the late twenties and continuing into the early forties, Gág had a series of lovers: Lewis Gannett, Carl Zigrosser, Dr. Hugh Darby, as well as her long-time paramour and business manager Earle Humphrey, whom she would ultimately marry on August 27, 1943.[39] 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.[40] Gág’s papers are held in the Kerlan Collection[41] at the University of Minnesota, The New York Public Library, The University of Pennsylvania,[42] The Free Library of Philadelphia and the Minneapolis Institute of Art.[43] 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.[44] 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 collection of The National Gallery of Art[45] and the British Museum,[46] and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts as well as numerous museums around the world.

Some artists who have been inspired by Wanda Gág are: Eric Rohmann,[47] Ursula Dubosarsky,[48] Susan Marie Swanson,[49] Jan Brett, Maurice Sendak,[50] and Ray Johnson[51]


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

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]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág". The Wild Place. Richland County Public Library. Retrieved 20 November 2009. 
  2. ^ Wanda Gág, Growing Pains. Borealis/Minnesota Historical Society Press, Saint Paul, p. xviii
  3. ^ Frances Smith. Testament of Faith, a review of Gág's Growing Pains. The Saturday Review, October 5, 1940, p. 12
  4. ^ Wanda Gág bio, Minnesota Historical Society. Accessed Apr. 26, 2011.
  5. ^ Audur H. Winnan, Wanda Gág, Smithsonian Institution Press, 1993, p. 2
  6. ^ Richard W. Cox, Minnesota History, Fall 1974, p. 250
  7. ^ Gág, p. xxxi
  8. ^ Winnan, p. 89
  9. ^ a b Winnan, p.2
  10. ^ Gág, p. 314
  11. ^ Winnan, p.4
  12. ^ Wanda Gág Papers, 1892-1968
  13. ^ Gág, p. 459
  14. ^ Gág, p. 466
  15. ^ Karen Nelson Hoyle Wanda Gág, a Life of Art and Stories pp. 8-10, University of Minnesota Press, 2009
  16. ^ a b Hoyle, pp. 10-13
  17. ^ Harold A. Loeb, New York, 1921, vol. II, no. 2
  18. ^ Winnan, p. 13
  19. ^ Hoyle, p. 13
  20. ^ Winnan, p. 239
  21. ^ Julie L’Enfant, The Gág Family, Afton Historical Society Press, 2002, p.123
  22. ^ The New Yorker: November 13, 1926, p. 90
  23. ^ Winnan, p. 36, 71
  24. ^ L'Enfant, p.130
  25. ^ Andrew Hemingway, Artists on the Left: American Artists and the Communist Movement 1926-1956, 2002
  26. ^ Exhibition at Tweed Museum of Art, University of Minnesota-Duluth, 2008-9
  27. ^ John Martin's House: New York, vol. XXXV, issue no. 4
  28. ^ New York Times, December 15, 1929.
  29. ^ Winnan, pp. 72-76
  30. ^ L'Enfant, p.156
  31. ^ Cech, John (editor), Dictionary of Literary Biographies: American Writers for Children, 1900-1960, Gale Research, 1983, vol. 22, p. 184
  32. ^ "Newbery Awards". Retrieved 2012-05-15. 
  33. ^ Maria Popova. The Story of a Man Who Wanted to do Housework: A Proto-Feminist Childen's Book from 1935. Brain Pickings site.
  34. ^ Hoyle, p. 59
  35. ^ Cech, p. 187
  36. ^ Silvey, Anita, The Essential Guide to Children’s Books and Their Creators, Houghton Mifflin, 2002, p. 171
  37. ^ Winnan, pp. 71-73
  38. ^ New Ulm Journal, July 29, 2010
  39. ^ Winnan, p. 44, 55, 61
  40. ^ The Horn Book Magazine, issue 23, May–June 1947
  41. ^ Collection Index
  42. ^ [1]
  43. ^ Chevalier, Tracy (editor), Twentieth-Century Children's Writers, St. James Press, 1989, p. 370
  44. ^ Wanda Gág House, accessed June 2012
  45. ^ Research Collection
  46. ^ Research Collection
  47. ^ Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast » Blog Archive » Seven Impossible Interviews Before Breakfast #65: Author/Illustrator Eric Rohmann
  48. ^ Ursula Dubosarsky
  49. ^ The House in the Night board book; ISBN 0547577699
  50. ^ Wanda Gág’s ‘Millions of Cats’ — An American Classic for Children | One-Minute Book Reviews
  51. ^ Robert Pincus-Witten, Artforum, February 2015

Further reading[edit]

  • 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

External links[edit]