On March 11, 1893, Wanda Gag was born, seemingly with artistic talent. Growing up in New Ulm, Minnesota as the eldest of seven children, she watched her Bohemian father paint murals on local churches and buildings. However, after her father died when she was only fifteen, leaving the family nearly destitute, Gag put her desire to draw and paint on hold and instead taught school children. Later, while attending the St. Paul School of Art and the Minneapolis School of Art, she helped to provide for her six brother and sisters by selling her illustrations to The Minneapolis Journal.
With the aid of a scholarship from the Arts Student's League, Gag relocated to New York City in 1917. In 1923, after supporting herself by painting lampshades and working on fashion designs, she abandoned her career in commercial art, which she felt was stifling her creativity. She decided to move to the country, where she was able to work in relative isolation on her own projects. Hardships prevailed, but in 1926 several pieces of her artwork were exhibited at the Weyhe Gallery in New York City.
Two years later, while continuing to draw and paint, Gag also began writing and illustrating children's books; it was this that first introduced her to a wider audience. Two of the better known examples of her work, Millions of Cats and ABC Bunny, remain classics today. Gag began to branch out further, translating into English and illustrating several Grimm fairy tales. As her success grew, she bought a farm in New Jersey, inviting two of her younger siblings to live with her. She eventually exhibited her work in such notable places as the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Library of Congress, the British Museum in London, the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris, and the Pushkin Museum in Moscow.
In her lifetime Gag achieved literary and artistic success. The quality of Gag's children's books may be suggested by the fact that she was twice a runner-up for both the Newbery Award and the Caldecott Award. She also wrote an autobiography, Growing Pains: Diaries and Drawings for the Years 1908-1917, in which she recounts her early years of poverty in Minnesota. Gag died from cancer at the age of fifty-three.
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