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Artist, illustrator, and writer Wanda Gág was born Wanda Hazel Gag on 11 March 1893 in the town of New Ulm, Minnesota, a German-speaking community of freethinking artisans and farmers. She was the oldest of seven children born to Anton Gag, a painter, photographer, and decorator, and his wife Elisabeth Biebl, also from an artistic family who made their living through cabinet making, photography, and farming. Gág described her parents, Anton and Lissi, as "iconoclasts" who did not practice the Catholicism of their Bohemian ancestors and raised their children in a home where drawing, painting, music, gardening, and sewing were the chief occupations of parents and children. Lissi designed and made her children's stylish clothes, a skill her daughters learned. As an older child Wanda Gág was amazed to discover that there were people who did not know how to draw--she and her brother and sisters were drawing before they entered school.
Wanda Gág's earliest teacher was her father Anton. He painted church interiors and decorated houses as partner in the firm Heller & Gag. On Sundays he painted in his attic studio in their home. One of his paintings of the 1862 Indian Massacre in New Ulm (now referred to as the Dakota conflict of 1862) was exhibited at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago in 1893; others are in private collections, museums, and historical societies in Minnesota and elsewhere. Anton Gag was an immigrant, born near Neustadtbei Heide, Bohemia. Lissi Biebl was born in Pennsylvania of Bohemian parents, both families moved to New Ulm around the same time. After moving to New York, Wanda Gág altered the family name by adding an accent to it, because people so often mispronounced her name. Some of Wanda's siblings adopted this change in their name after Gág became well known. (See Gág's note in Growing Pains, hereafter GP, 471.)
When her father was on his deathbed in May 1908 at the age of 48, he called Wanda to his side and told her "Was der Papa nicht thun konnt' muss die Wanda halt fertig machen" (What Papa couldn't do, Wanda will have to finish). Wanda was fifteen years old, her youngest sister Flavia was one year old, her mother was ill and often unable to do housework and they were left very little beyond their home at 226 Washington Street, New Ulm, and life insurance of $1200 which was made to last over the next six years.
In October of that year, 1908, Wanda began keeping a record of her earnings, expenses, and events of her life in a ledger book that had belonged to her father. This was the start of her habit of keeping diaries, which she continued until her death. With her mother's approval, Wanda decided not to take work as a clerk or housekeeper. Instead she was determined to earn as much as she could by her art work--drawing bookmarks, place cards, and postcards (at 5 cents each) which she sold locally. She illustrated her own stories and poems for submission to the Minneapolis Junior Journal, which paid a dollar for each published work. A year later, she was holding drawing classes in her home to earn money for the family. Wanda also decided that she and her sisters and brother would each finish high school. Her attendance at school was often interrupted by having to tend the baby at home when her mother was sick, and by doing the washing, cleaning, cooking, chopping firewood, and other chores. The story of these years and her earliest studies at art schools in St. Paul and Minneapolis is told in Wanda Gág's book Growing Pains, comprising excerpts from her diaries and letters from 1908 to 1917 and published in 1940.
Wanda balanced her sense of obligation to her siblings, who remained close to her throughout her life, and her desire to pursue art. The Wanda Gág Papers at the University of Pennsylvania include a significant amount of family correspondence plus Gág's writings about her family. Her siblings were her sisters Stella Gag Harm (1894-1962); Thusnelda Gag Stewart "Tussy," "Nelda"(1897-1973); Asta Gag Treat "Drift" (1899-1987); Dehli Gag Janssen "Dale," "Deli" (1900-1958); her brother, Howard Gag (1902-1961); and baby sister Flavia Gág "Flops" (1907-1978) who also became an author and illustrator of children's books (see Winnan, 78). Her mother's family, the Biebls, whom Wanda called "Grandma folks," were especially close to her. They included her grandmother; her uncle Joe "Josie" Biebl; her Aunts Mary and Magdalena "Lena" Biebl; and her uncle Frank Biebl, a woodcarver, cabinet maker, photographer, and musician.
Wanda had a keen appreciation for music, learned from her family. She played the piano, sang in the Glee Club, arranged the school song in four parts, and was happy when her uncle Frank, who also made musical instruments, came to their house and played his guitar. She played duets at the piano with her friend Alma Schmidt ("Schmidty," later Alma Schmidt Scott), who maintained a lifelong friendship with the Gág family and wrote a biography of Wanda, published in 1949. They graduated together from high school in New Ulm in 1912.
After finishing school Gág determined that the best way to help her family would be to teach. She left home for the first time in November 1912 to teach in a country school in Springfield, Minnesota for $40 a month. Always an avid reader, she took Shakespeare with her and her papa's guitar "I admit I can't play a note on it but I was scared I'd come to a place where I'd have no music and one can always learn," (GP, 134-135). She enjoyed the new experience, learning along with her students and also attending country dances-she loved to dance; but overall she was frustrated that she had almost no time for drawing.
During the summer she returned to New Ulm and was visited by Charles Weschcke of St. Paul, who had known her father and was interested in Gág's talent. He offered to send her to the St. Paul Institute of Arts and Sciences and to pay her board at t he Y.W.C.A. Her sister Stella was able to teach school that year to support the family and in the fall of 1913 Wanda began classes, preparing for a career in illustration and commercial art.
Wanda received early support from a number of individuals in St. Paul and Minneapolis. Among them was Arthur J. Russell, journalist and editor at the Minneapolis Journal and Minneapolis Junior Journal, where Wanda had submitted her stories and drawings since she was in her early teens. She wrote to him about her compulsion to draw, which she referred to as "fierce drawing moods" or "drawing fits" and her "myself and many me's" which occupied her thoughts in her diaries:
Myself is the part of me that sees its way out of my "self-to-me" arguments, as for instance the one above about cleverness; and Me is that part that writes things in diaries in angular words, angular phrases and angular thoughts. Like this :-Myself is inside, and Me is trying to sort of fit around the outside only it can't very well because it's so angular, you see, and can do no more than touch myself and feel that myself is there.
Russell gave her books to read and wrote to her for over thirty years encouraging her to pay attention to her unique view of her world and her work:
I am sure your me's will not worry you for you know now they are deciduous, if that is the word, or in other words they are crops of leaves that you are shedding as the seasons go. The real tree of you stands and will stand.
--Russell to Gág, 24 November 1914
Wanda first met Arthur Russell on 28 November 1914. He introduced her to his editor, Herschel V. Jones, who was so excited by her work that Jones offered to pay Wanda's tuition, room, and board at the Minneapolis School of Art on the spot. Wanda considered this and then accepted and moved to Minneapolis in December 1914. She returned home to New Ulm for the Christmas holidays, where Dehli was recovering from a serious illness. Christmas was an important part of Gág's life. In New Ulm the holiday began with St. Nicholas's Day, December 6, but the tree trimming did not take place until December 24, and in the intervening weeks much effort went into making presents for every member of the family. The family practice of writing verses and riddles attached to Christmas gifts persisted throughout their lives and a large number of these have been preserved in Gág's Papers.
After Wanda's return to Minneapolis in January 1915, she frequently mentions one of her classmates, artist Adolf Dehn (spelled Adolphe or Adolph in his letters to Gág). They became close friends, discussing immortality, art, books, and religion, and after a few years, the pros and cons of marriage. Although she greatly enjoyed the company of men, Wanda had always said that art came first in her life, and from her teenage years she thought seriously about remaining single. Dehn's declaration of his love for her in 1916 drove her to think about the question almost constantly.
In January 1917, after she had returned to Minneapolis following the Christmas holidays in New Ulm, she received a message from Stella that she should return home immediately. Her mother had been ill over the holidays. The weather was bitterly cold and Wanda kept the fires and furnace going and tried to keep a normal routine for the youngest children. Two neighbors and the doctor were with Gág at her mother's bedside when she died early in the morning of January 31. Her mother was 48, the same age her father had been when he died almost ten years earlier. After a few months Wanda decided that the best chance of keeping the family together (some local families wanted to adopt the youngest children) and of giving them opportunities for education would be to sell their home in New Ulm and move to Minneapolis. In April of the same year Wanda Gág and Adolf Dehn both received notice that they were among twelve students nationwide who had won scholarships to the Art Students League in New York. Agai n, Herschel V. Jones offered to pay Gág's room and board, this time in New York.
During the summer of 1917, Wanda, her sisters, and Adolf Dehn painted the house in New Ulm to ready it for sale and they sold most of their household goods. By the end of September the house had not sold and through that winter Asta stayed with the youngest children in New Ulm, while Stella and Nelda worked to support them in Minneapolis. Wanda borrowed $150 for the children from Jean Sherwood Rankin for whom she illustrated A Child's Book of Folk-lore: Mechanics of Written English (1917) a guide to assist immigrants in learning the English language. Wanda Gág, Adolf Dehn, and their classmate Arnold Blanch went to New York together at the end of September 1917.
At the Art Students League Gág studied with Frank Vincent DuMond, Kenneth Hayes Miller, and Robert Henri. She took a class in etching from Mahonri Young, while attending lectures and classes with a number of other instructors including John Sloan. She roomed at the Studio Club of the Y.W.C.A. but moved to a room at 859 Lexington Avenue to save money to send home to New Ulm where the children were having a difficult winter. Gág began looking for commercial art jobs to earn extra money.
Gág returned to New Ulm for the summer of 1918, sold their house and moved her family to Minneapolis. Wanda returned to New York with an art school classmate, Lucile Lundquist, who had roomed with Stella in Minneapolis. Although her scholarship had been renewed, Gág was not able to study full time, and spent much effort trying to interest publishers in her work; trying to obtain work making covers for sheet music; and becoming involved in fashion advertising, which she hated. In her diary she describes the celebration at the end of World War I in New York City when the news came of Germany's surrender, with bits of paper falling everywhere from the sky. That November she took a job decorating lampshades for 25 cents an hour for a Danish woman named Mrs. Lund.
Adolf Dehn had been drafted into the Army in June 1918, and served as a conscientious objector in a guard house in Spartanburg, South Carolina. While still in the Army, Adolf was able to visit Wanda in New York in January 1919. She described their meet ing in detail and wrote in her diary, "Adolphe, of course, is not greatly in favor of marriage, neither am I, but being a woman, & being also very fond of children, free love has as many disadvantages as marriage for me" [Diary 35, 1 February 1919]. She often wrote of the disadvantages of being a woman. When Dehn and sculptor and fellow Minnesotan John B. Flannagan wanted to hire on as deck hands on a merchant ship to China, Gág was very upset that Dehn didn't ever consider that it would be impossible for her to take the trip with him because she was a woman [Diary 36, 16 December 1919]. They did plan to travel to Europe together and began saving money for this.
During the period 1920 to 1922 Gág was becoming more successful earning money through commercial art. In her diaries she was preoccupied with her relationship with Adolf, worried about the effects of her unsatisfied desires on her health and about his self-described "promiscuity." She investigated methods of birth control and exchanged information about sex with her roommate Lucile Lundquist, who was involved in a relationship with Arnold Blanch. Dehn and Gág became lovers but con tinued to "torture" (her word) each other and when he persisted with his wish to travel to Europe in October 1921 she did not go with him. At this time Gág was undertaking a business venture called "Happiwork," a series of activity kits for children. Gág designed and wrote stories for these; her partners were Janet and Ralph Aiken who lived in Connecticut.
Gág still thought about joining Dehn in Europe once Happiwork was established. She wanted to travel to her ancestors' homelands in Austria and Czechoslovakia, in addition to spending time in Paris. But she became involved with Earle Marshall Humphreys, a friend of Adolf Dehn, who had been interred with him as a conscientious objector in South Carolina during the war. Earle Humphreys, a bookseller and writer, was born in Philadelphia and had graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania. Meanwhile Dehn wrote to Gág on 24 February 1922 that he had fallen in love with Mura Ziperovitch, a young dancer, but that he wanted Gág to join him soon in Vienna. Gág obtained her passport on 11 March 1922, but never departed for Europe.
Wanda Gág had her first art exhibition at the New York Public Library's East 96th Street Branch from 15 February to 1 April 1923. Her work was well received by fellow artists and she received notices in the press. Among her admirers was Carl Zigrosser, a founder of the Weyhe Gallery in New York, which specialized in prints. Throughout the 1920s Zigrosser encouraged her, wrote to her, sent books to her, and bought all her completed prints for Weyhe so that she would have some money to live on. Zigrosser organized her first exhibition at Weyhe, 1-20 November 1926, which was a critical success.
In 1923 the Happiwork venture failed. Gág did not like the pace of living in New York City year round and prized the times she had been able to spend in the country--at Mohegan Lake, New York in the summer of 1919 and in Connecticut with the Aiken family. Although she had a steady income from commercial art, her real desire was to make art for herself. She made the decision in 1923 to "go native" as she called it, to give up fashion drawing and go to the country to pursue art. She spent the summer and autumn of 1923 and 1924 in the country near Ridgefield, Connecticut and long summers from 1925 through 1930 at a rented farmhouse near Glen Gardner, New Jersey which she called "Tumble Timbers." Here she was able to plant a garden, to study the growth of nature and forms of the landscape, and to draw and paint every day. Gág sometimes expressed her experiences of the fundamental forces of nature by using musical analogies. In one diary entry she describes the forms of trees and masses of foliage as a symphony, the sound comprised not just of wavelengths, but volume [6 July 1923, Diary 40]. She wrote to Carl Zigrosser about her work and her determination.
...once and for all to get at the bottom of the principle which governs all this [the forms of hills, planes, conflicting fragments, big forms].... My aesthetic existence teems with forms which project themselves tauntingly toward me, recede elu sively from me, bulge, flow - and, worst of all, turn triumphantly over the edge of things, leaving me to wonder what's going on beyond. But of course that's exactly the place where I can't afford to give up...
--Gág to Zigrosser, 10 May 1926
Her companions in the country and during the winter at their apartments in New York City were Earle Humphreys and her sisters and brother. Thusnelda moved to New York in 1922, Asta in 1924, Dehli and Flavia (who had been living with Stella, now married in Minneapolis) in 1926, and Howard in 1927. Nelda, Asta, and Dehli married, but Flavia remained unmarried and spent a number of years living with Gág, as did her brother Howard, who supported himself as a musician at clubs in New York.
Gág was involved in a number of collaborative efforts with artists in New York, including William Gropper, with whom she founded a magazine without an editor entitled Folio in 1924. Carl Zigrosser invited her to parties and exhibition openings, some of which she accepted, but many she turned down, preferring to spend her time working uninterrupted. She did accompany Zigrosser to Lake George, New York for a weekend in August 1928--an invitation from Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe. Stieglitz admired her work and an autobiographical article she had written for The Nation titled "These Modern Women: A Hotbed of Feminists" (22 June, 1927) and Gág enjoyed Georgia O'Keeffe's company.
In 1928 Gág became nationally known with the publication of her first illustrated children's book, Millions of Cats. She followed this the next year with another book, The Funny Thing. Gág had been writing stories for children since her teens and had attempted to publish some of them during the early 1920s in New York. Her meeting with Coward-McCann editor Ernestine Evans at the time of Gág's exhibition at Weyhe Gallery in 1926 led to the publication of Millions of Cats. The period from 1924 to 1928 had been especially productive for her as an artist. Her innovative lithographs from sandpaper plates and her ink drawings and watercolors on sandpaper were widely acclaimed. Her drawings appeared in New Masses; her lithograph Elevated Station was selected as one of the Fifty Prints of the Year (1926) by the American Institute of Graphic Arts, an honor she received during each of the next five years. She exhibited in a number of group exhibitions around the country, and had a second exhibition at the Weyhe Gallery, 19-31 March 1928. The royalties from her children's books gave her a substantial income for the first time in her life and when "Tumble Timbers," became unavailable for rent in 1931, Gág and Humphreys began looking for a rural property to buy. She wrote to Jean Sherwood Rankin, who was trying to get Gág to collaborate on another book:
I am planning to get myself a little country place somewhere-one where I can stay all the year round. I have quite "gone native" and I like to go in hiding for the purpose of greater freedom and concentration in my work.
--Gág to Rankin, 16 November 1930
They bought a farm of 193 acres in the Musconetcong mountains near Milford, New Jersey in June 1931, and set to work renovating the old farmhouse and planting the garden. The following year, they built a studio on the property for Gág which she named "All Creation," the name later applied to the whole property. This work occupied nearly all of Gág's time (and Humphreys' and Howard Gag's) for the second half of 1931. Gág highly prized her personal freedom and privacy for her own work. She had once written to Zigrosser that:
These are the times-this winter being one of them-when I am so intensely absorbed in my work that a love-affair just cannot hold out against it. Maybe that's cruel, but that's me! Way back in my art school days I used to say, "Art comes first-and men, much as I like them and need them, must come second." I think no one believed me then, but I meant it, and I have practiced it, I think, pretty consistently throughout my life.
--Gág to Zigrosser, 28 January 1929
Humphreys moved to Virginia in 1932 to make time for himself to work on a manuscript for a book, an endeavor in which Gág supported him. He returned in the summer and traveled with Gág to Walden and Concord, Massachusetts. Gág worked on her wood engravings and lithographs during the 1930s, but the number of prints she produced was fewer than in the 1920s. In March of 1932 her friends the artists Howard Norton Cook and his wife Barbara Latham stayed with her at "All Creation" while Howard Cook taught her the techniques of aquatint. Barbara was reading Gág's diaries (and evidently upset by Gág's views on sex and creativity) and Gág wrote of this to Earle:
I think it is this part of it that Barbara [Latham Cook] failed to see. I tried to explain to her that sex to me was not a neurotic desire for many experiences, but that it was like the earth to me-growth, breadth, creation.... I am inclined to think t hat a great personal pleasure is more potent for the purposes of aesthetic re-birth than a trip to another country.
--Gág to Humphreys, 4 April 1932
Gág's circle of friends in the 1930s and 1940s included Hugh Darby and his wife Eleanor Muriel Kapp, Louis and Stella Adamic, Carl Van Doren, Mark and Dorothy Van Doren, Joe Freeman, Mike Gold, and Max Jacobs. Gág also had a close friendship with the writer Lewis Gannett and his wife Ruth Chrisman Gannett. In July 1934 she was invited by the Gannetts to a party for a Russian consul.
As soon as we got there, Ruth introduced me to a man who talked with me off & on for a great part of the evening. When I was about to go home I found out that it had been Morris Ernst. He was very different from what I expected him to be like. Theodore Dreiser was there too. I was introduced to him in passing. If I had known what to say I could easily have gotten into a conversation with him, I think, for he's not aloof.
--Gág to Humphreys, 16 April 1934
Gág was in demand as a lecturer. Her publisher, Coward-McCann, wanted her to produce more children's books and to give some time to promoting them. She was also asked to illustrate books for other authors. She refused most of these requests, but during the Depression, there was little demand for fine art; many of her artist friends were struggling (see, for example, letters from her friend J. J. Lankes) and her ability to earn a living and help support her siblings through the market for children' s literature was important. Between 1930 and 1940 she published seven more books, six for children plus her early diaries, Growing Pains, all for Coward-McCann. These included original stories by Gág and her illustrations and translations of the Kinder- und Hausmärchen of the Brothers Grimm. Gág had grown up hearing traditional stories and spoke only German until she entered school. She continued to work on her German langauge skills while she was in Minneapolis-St. Paul. She enjoyed the project of working on the Grimms' Fairy Tales, and not coincidently, published her illustrated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs during the same year, 1938, that the Walt Disney movie was released.
Gág served on art juries for the New York World's Fair in 1939 and she applied for a Guggenheim Fellowship that year, obtaining letters of reference from Lewis Gannett, Rockwell Kent, Lewis Mumford, and Carl Zigrosser. Zigrosser applied for and received a fellowship in the same year, but in a different category from Gág's application, which was not funded.
In 1940 the Weyhe Gallery mounted a major retrospective of Gág's work, "Wanda Gág: 35 Years of Picture-Making," 21-31 October 1940. On this occasion the gallery published a special "Gág Number" of The Checkerboard, which includes a catalog of her works to date. She was also working in oils at this time. In her early career she had little experience with oils because she could afford neither paints nor canvas. The success of the autobiographical Growing Pains(1940) prompted her to start work on a sequel.
Since 1939 Gág had been suffering from severe dizziness, poor eyesight, ringing in her ears, weight loss, and low energy which kept her from drawing and painting much of the time. She was still able to write, however, and continued her work on various writing projects. She was not able to get a clear diagnosis of her medical problems from the doctors she visited; they blamed her symptoms on menopause, dysentery, thyroid problems, and eventually on allergies. She had expressed concern about her hea lth as early as 1928 in a letter she wrote to Carl Zigrosser:
I'm not feeling at all well, and a certain trouble which I had hoped would decrease, has apparently increased instead. I did not tell you about this, because I do not like to talk about my ailments, and the worse they are, the harder it is to get me to tell about them. It was chiefly about this that I went to the naturopath. He told me it was an enlarged gland in my left breast-resulting probably from a strain. But I was not at all reassured, and now-after having been careful to use my left arm very li ttle-it seems to bother me more than formerly.
--Gág to Zigrosser, 28 May 1928
Zigrosser was alarmed and recommended a doctor, Dr. Burton J. Lee, whom Gág continued to see over the next several years. Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe also recommended O'Keeffe's doctor. Evidently nothing substantive was done for Gág, and she continued to complain of pain in her side in her letters to Zigrosser in 1931 and 1934.
Gág was depressed by her health and by the state of the world at the approach of the second World War. She contributed a drawing to the American League for Peace and Democracy for its 1939 calendar. She was committed to anti-Fascism and to the liberal causes that many of her artist friends espoused. Her contributions consisted of donating her prints for auctions and other fundraisers plus some small cash contributions. She held memberships in the American Artists Congress, the League of American Writers, and the Authors' Guild of the Authors' League of America through which she contributed to the National War Fund during World War II.
Wanda Gág and Earle Humphreys were married at the end of August 1943, affirming their bond of more than twenty years. The church ceremony took place at the Central Baptist Church in New York City, on a rainy August 27, with Gág's brother-in-law Bob Janssen as witness. Robert Janssen, married to Wanda's sister Dehli, was very close to both Earle and Wanda. They married to quell criticism received by Earle at his defense job that he was living with an unmarried woman--criticism motivated by hos tility and distrust of Earle's union organizing activities in the plant. Although she felt all along that theirs had been a true and moral relationship, Wanda was positive about the marriage; she was glad to be able to be open about their relationship, particularly with Earle's family.
Gág's work continued to be exhibited in group shows and traveling exhibitions. In 1944 she was represented in the First Annual Exhibition of Contemporary American Drawings at the National Academy of Design and was awarded the Joseph and Elizabeth R. Pennell Purchase Prize by the Library of Congress for her lithograph Barns at Glen Gardner.
By 1945 Wanda Gág was seriously ill, she wrote that she could not walk a block without panting and she frequently ran a fever. When she was hospitalized in February, several pints of fluid were removed from her left lung. X-rays and exploratory su rgery revealed that she was suffering from terminal lung cancer. Her doctors and husband, Earle Humphreys, decided not to inform her of this, the only people who were told were her brother Howard, Robert Janssen, and Carl Zigrosser. Wanda probably suspected the malignancy, she received radiation treatments and Earle determined that he would take care of her and make her as comfortable as possible, taking over all the maintenance of the household and garden so that she could continue to work.
Late in December of 1945, Earle and Wanda left New York City and drove to Florida where they hoped the warmer climate would make Wanda more comfortable. She continued to work on this trip, producing drawings and working on translations for her next col lection of Grimms' tales. Returning to "All Creation," on May 17, Earle and Howard Gag planted the garden. Wanda became critically ill in June and died at Doctor's Hospital in New York City, 27 June 1946 after a few days hospitalization. She was cremated and her ashes scattered at "All Creation."
Gág's will was dated 13 December 1945. In it she named Humphreys and Zigrosser as co-executors. Earle Humphreys died 16 May 1950 of a heart attack before final settlement of the estate. His co-executor, Robert Janssen then represented the family in the final settlement. In accordance with Earle's instructions, Robert Janssen burned Humphreys' papers, including the manuscripts for his unpublished books. Her family's wish was that Wanda Gág's work be distributed widely and a number of memorial exhibitions of her work were held in New York, Philadelphia, and Minnesota. Few of Wanda's friends or colleagues had known how ill she was and her death at the age of 53 was a shock to the art world.
The Wanda Gág papers at the University of Pennsylvania are the primary repository for information on her personal and family life including, as they do, the nearly complete set of her diaries from 1908-1946. Gág's diaries were important to her. She had a compulsion to write that was as strong as her compulsion to draw. She read from her diaries to her close friends, she recopied long sections of them to use in later writings. In them she wrote about art, her family, her friendships, her lovers, her emotions, her ideals, women's roles in society, her health, marriage, money, education, and her passion for the natural world.
Gág's diaries are the primary source for understanding her creative process, her views on art and the work of her contemporaries. She had developed the habit of analyzing her thoughts, motives, morals, moods, and creativity early in childhood and her writings provide an unusually rich inner portrait of a talented and driven artist who was a perfectionist in her work.
The diaries incidently contain much of interest in regard to women's health, particularly women's reproductive health and treatment from the 1920s to the 1940s. Gág was frank in writing about her use of birth control, her sexual activity, and her suffering during menstruation (she suffered so severely from dysmenorrhea that she had to reschedule all her activities each month). In April and May of 1921, Gág feared that she was pregnant and went to see Margaret H. Sanger, whom she describes in her diary (she wasn't pregnant, but was given a regime to follow to induce her menstruation). There is also material related to the health of her sisters. Dehli suffered from depression and turned to Christian Science when she was eighteen, in part to gai n control over her thoughts. She saw a number of psychiatrists and other specialists after she moved to New York in 1926, with financial assistance from Wanda. Flavia, who became a successful author and illustrator of children's books by following Wanda's lead, also suffered from a number of health problems. The poor nutrition of the Gág family members in their childhood may have been responsible for at least some of their health problems later in life.
Correspondence in the Wanda Gág Papers is focused predominantly on personal and family relationships. Her extensive correspondence with Adolf Dehn, 1915-1943, documents his life in a guardhouse as a conscientious objector in World War I, but is primarily an extension of their conversations on art, love, and marriage. He continued to write to her from Europe in the 1920s and his letters contain information about artists they both knew. Gág's letters to Dehn are preserved in the Adolf and Virginia Dehn Papers and Dehn Family Papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Her correspondence with Earle M. Humphreys spans the years 1931-1943 (from about the time he and Wanda purchased their farm in Milford, New Jersey) and does not date from the earliest years of their relationship. Correspondence with Carl Zigrosser is extensive, dating from 1924 until weeks before Gág's death in 1946. Zigrosser's letters in the Wanda Gág Papers and his own papers, also held by the Universit y of Pennsylvania (Ms. Coll. 6) contain a wealth of information about artists and the art world in the United States and Europe for the first half of the century. The Wanda Gág Papers were donated to the University of Pennsylvania by Zigrosser in 197 2 with the donation of his papers, and include items, in addition to their correspondence, which were gifts from Gág to Zigrosser.
There are significant letters from each of Gág's siblings, and ongoing correspondence in particular with Dehli and with Flavia. Some of the earliest letters from her sisters Thusnelda and Stella to Wanda in New York show their struggles to feed the family and keep them warm in the harsh Minnesota winters after their mother died.
Letters from Alfred Stieglitz and Georgia O'Keeffe reflect the high regard they both felt for Gág. Other artists, authors, and activists whose work and/or lives are represented or discussed in the papers include Egmont Arens, George Biddle, Roger N. Baldwin, Arnold Blanch, Lucile Lundquist Blanch, Louise Bogan, Howard Cook, Adolf Dehn, Max Eastman, John B. Flannagan, Lewis Gannett, Ruth Chrisman Gannett, Mike Gold, Harry Gottlieb, Emil Ganso, Horace Gregory, William Gropper, Max Jacobs, Frida Kahl o, Spencer Kellogg, Jr., Rockwell Kent, Julius J. Lankes, Harold Atkins Larrabee, Barbara Latham, Thomas Gaetano Lo Medíco, John Marin, Edith Whittlesey Newton, Anton Refregier, Diego Rivera, Arnold Ronnebeck, Grace Cogswell Root, Hyman J. Warsager, Anthony Velonis, and Art Young, among others.
The Papers include approximately 30 original drawings and watercolors, including a number of erotic drawings and paintings. The primary collection of Gág's prints is at the Philadelphia Museum of Art; representative prints were distributed by Zigrosser and Gág's family to a large number of museums around the world after her death. Exhibition catalogs and lists of Gág's works are not complete in these Papers, although lists of her work were compiled as part of the settlement of Gág's estate (Box 32).
Financial records for Wanda Gág are incomplete, comprising only four items. There are notes recording her earnings from commercial art in 1921-1922; one item is an account book in which she kept a strict record of shared household expenses; one is her bank book for a savings account, which shows a balance of $3000-$6000 during the Depression years; and the last item is a book in which she kept handwritten accounts of royalties from book sales.
These Papers include correspondence and partial records for the Estate of Wanda Gág, 1946-1968. Zigrosser and Earle Humphreys were co-executors of the Estate. Upon Humphreys's death in 1950, his co-executor (Wanda's brother-in-law) Robert Janssen became the family representative for Wanda Gág's estate.
Production materials for Gág's children's books were sold after her death. The primary repository for these is the Children's Literature Research Collection, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. Some Gág family correspondence, Wanda Gág photo albums, and papers of Alma Schmidt Scott are also part of that collection. The papers of Alma Scott, including her correspondence and research materials for her biography of Wanda Gág, are located at the Minnesota Historical Society. The Gág and Biebl families donated family papers and artwork to the New Ulm Library in New Ulm, Minnesota.
For a complete listing of correspondents, do the following title search in Franklin: Wanda Gág Papers.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- The processing of the Wanda Gág Papers and the preparation of this register were made possible by a grant from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
The Wanda Gág Papers are available for consultation by researchers in the Reading Room, Rare Book and Manuscript Library at the University of Pennsylvania. Permission to reproduce or publish materials from this collection must be obtained from a curator at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, from the estate of Wanda Gág and/or from other holders of copyright for these materials.