NEW ULM — New Ulm has been celebrating the 120th birthday of its best-known hometown girl. Wanda Hazel Gag was an artist, author, translator and illustrator who rose from poverty to international fame in the 1920s.
Brown County Historical Society's Museum has indefinitely extended the dates of its exhibit of her works. Gag's sketches and woodcut prints are sharing the museum's second floor space with an annual holiday display of The Menzel Village.
Items in the show are from the collections of the city of New Ulm, the county Historical Society and the Wanda Gag House Association. Some works are on loan from the Gag Estate and other private collections.
The New Ulm exhibit features a poster from Gag's first solo show in New York City and books with examples of illustrations she made during her career in the city.
Also displayed in the show are pieces of furniture from the house in New Ulm where Gag and her also-artistic siblings grew up. Exhibit cases hold greeting cards Gag created for family members and fashion designs she dreamed up when she was a young girl. She had shown promise as an illustrator and writer when she was very young.
At 15, Gag became the breadwinner for her large family when her father, Anton Gag, a respected local artist, died of tuberculosis. She provided support for her mother, five sisters and a brother and at the same time, honored her father's deathbed wish that she pursue an art career — "What Papa can't do, Wanda will have to do."
After her graduation in 1912, Gag taught country school near Springfield for a few years. She attended The St. Paul School of Art from 1913 to 1914, and after receiving an Art Students League of New York, moved to Greenwich Village.
Gag's first and most famous book, "Millions of Cats" was published in 1928. The exhibit includes several translated versions of the classic illustrated book which won the Newbery Honor Award and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award. The book is still in print in its 78th edition.
She also illustrated “ The ABC Bunny” — the oldest American picture book still in print. The alphabet book, which was handlettered by her brother Howard and included a music score by her sister Flavia, earned Wand Gag a Newbery Honor Award. Her books “ Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and “Nothing at All” each won Caldecott Honor awards.
In 1940, a book of edited excerpts from her diaries was published. “Growing Pains” received wide acclaim.
Gag died in 1946.
Today, her works are in museums around the world, including the British Museum and the Albert and Victoria Museum in London, the Pushkin Museum in Moscow, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and in art museums throughout the United States. The Minnesota Historical Society, the National Gallery of Art and the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., also have her works.