A Homespun Expressionist: Wanda Gág

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág interior page, a man is walking over a hill surrounded by cats

The modern American picture book starts with Wanda Gág. The eldest daughter of struggling Bohemian immigrant artists, Gág (rhymes with "fog") grew up in New Ulm, Minnesota, where her family's defiantly nonconformist ways rendered them local pariahs. Even as a child, however, she never doubted her creative calling, which her father confirmed on his deathbed when he declared, "What Papa has left undone, Wanda will have to do."  

In 1917, Gág moved to New York, supporting herself as a commercial artist. She drew for the leftist publication New Masses, mastered lithography, and began exhibiting her prints in galleries. Her distinctive homespun, expressionistic style caught the eye of an editor keen to challenge the primacy of the British picture-book classics Americans prized. Critics hailed Gág's Millions of Cats, with its blend of folkloric and modernist influences, as a landmark achievement: exhilarating proof that in cultural attainments, as in industrial and military might, the American Century had indeed begun.


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Wanda Gág with a cat

Portrait of Wanda Gág 

Print by Robert Janssen

Gelatin Silver Print, 1934

Kerlan Collection, Children's Literature Research Collections

University of Minnesota Libraries

Sketch of two cats on tripods

Sketch of a Cat

Illustrated by Wanda Gág

Charcoal on sandpaper, ca. 1930s

Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág cover, a man is walking over a hill surrounded by cats

Millions of Cats

Written and Illustrated by Wanda Gág

1928

Snippy and Snappy by Wanda Gág alternative cover, close up of two mice rolling a ball of yarn

Snippy and Snappy

Written and Illustrated by Wanda Gág

1931

Art of the Picture Book
The Size and Shape of Things
A Homespun Expressionist: Wanda Gág