MidwestWeekends.com — Your Travel Guide to the Upper Midwest

The Gags of New Ulm

A family of artists puzzled neighbors but went on to great things.

New Ulm hasn't always understood the kind of people who color outside the lines.

That describes the entire family of Anton Gág, a German-Bohemian artist whose work can be seen at New Ulm's Cathedral of the Holy Trinity and the brewery of August Schell, who was his patron and sent him to art school in Chicago for six months. All seven children were creative, spending their days drawing, telling stories and building sets for plays.

"He didn't want the children to be like other children," says Mary Ann Zins of New Ulm.

His eldest child, Wanda, was only 14 when Gág died of tuberculosis in 1908, and her mother's illness placed the burden of supporting the family on her.

"After her father died, the townspeople said, 'OK, Wanda, now you give up that silliness with art and you go downtown and clerk in the dime- store,'" Zins said. "The reason they left is they had higher aspirations than the people of New Ulm had for them, and they wouldn't stand for it."

Wanda Gág, who at 17 declared her motto to be "Draw to Live and Live to Draw," eventually was able to attend art school in the Twin Cities, to which she moved her younger siblings after her mother died in 1916. A year later, she won a scholarship in New York and moved the family there.

"Because they were so different, they blended right in in New York," Zins said. "They loved it."

In 1928, Gág (pronounced "gog") became famous as the author and illustrator of the classic children's book "Millions of Cats," and today, her works hang in the British Museum in London, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam and the Pushkin Museum in St. Petersburg, among others. Her family's 1894 house in New Ulm has been restored by the Wanda Gág House Association, of which Zins is president.

Tours are rich in details about Anton, Wanda and her six siblings, all of whom eventually became the authors and/or illustrators of books.

The house at the corner of Third North and Washington is open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturdays and 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sundays in summer, in December, on festival weekends and by appointment, $2, 1-507-359-2632.

Last updated on August 4, 2008