Friday, March 11, 2016

Minnsota* (for Minnesota*)

Wanda Gág, who was born on March 11, 1893, in New Ulm, Minnesota, is probably best known for having drawn Millions of Cats. Although I understand that some people who read this book to their children find the plot line a bit "disturbing" (in that the feral felines, all but one, end up killing each other in a giant cat fight), it holds the distinction of being the oldest American picture book still in print. Wanda Gág came from a family of artists: her father Anton was a painter and photographer, her sister Flavia a writer, painter, and book illustrator. Wanda appears to have been a born feminist. On his deathbed in 1908, her father told the teenager: "Was der Papa nicht thun konnt', muss die Wanda halt fertig machen." (What Papa couldn’t do, Wanda will have to finish.) Being the eldest of seven children, that meant a lot of work for Wanda, along with empathy, flexibility, and role reversal, all of which may have eventually led her to write the 1935 children's book Gone Is Gone: or the Story of a Man Who Wanted to Do Housework. In 1917, after all of the "housework" was finished, Wanda moved to New York City's Greenwich Village on a scholarship to the Art Students League, where she studied composition, etching, and advertising illustration. Bohemian in both senses of the word, she clearly enjoyed writing about her own life and process, as seen in the nearly 500-page tome Growing Pains: Diaries and Drawings for the Years 1908–1917. Notables said to have been inspired by Gág include Eric Rohmann, Ursula Dubosarsky, Jan Brett, Susan Marie Swanson, Maurice Sendak, and perhaps most intriguingly of all, Pop-Art "collagist and correspondence artist" Ray Johnson, the subject of the 2002 documentary How to Draw a Bunny. With two hits in OhioLINK and 68 in WorldCat, we can easily draw the conclusion that our typo for the day is one of "low probability" on the Ballard list.

(Portrait of the artist Wanda Gág, 24 December 1916, from Wikimedia Commons.)

Carol Reid