December 7, 2010

Wanda Gág's Block Prints

        I've known Wanda Gág's book Millions of Cats (1928) since I was little, and can still remember the rhythmic refrain "Cats here, cats there, cats and kittens everywhere, Hundreds of cats, Thousands of cats, Millions and billions and trillions of cats."  (Gág did love cats!)  She won the Newbery Honor Award for this classic book.  It was some time later that I discovered that Gág was an artist beyond the illustrations of her books, particularly acclaimed for lithographs, but also with some relief prints.  Her images are often very dark, with such sweeping curves and looming shadows that her scenes of ordinary life become lyrical and almost dream-like.  I love them!
        Look how intricate the shadows are in this wood engraving, even though it's stylized.  I love the pattern of all the turned wood pieces in the spinning wheel.


        In this linoleum block print, called "Departure," Gág somehow manages to make the scene simultaneously sad and cozy.  And again, all those shadows!

        Here's one of her beautiful lithographs.  I'm sorry it's not a larger, more detailed image, but look how gentle and rich the gradations of grey are, when compared with the relief prints.  Lithography is just perfect for the soft snow and the soft twilight of this scene.
        And finally, another lithograph, but a bright scene, just so you can see that she didn't do only shadows!  But it still has all those curves and that dreamlike quality.


[Pictures: Spinning Wheel, wood engraving by Wanda Gág, 1925, (Minnesota Historical Society Collections);
Departure, linoleum block print by Wanda Gág, 1927, (The Old Print Shop);
Winter Twilight, zinc plate lithograph by Wanda Gág, 1927, (The Tweed Museum of Art);
Spring on the Hillside, lithograph by Wanda Gág, 1935.]

5 comments:

  1. I love how the echoes of Grant Wood's work resonate in the landscape... but even in the curves of the other images. It's always humbling to see this sort of thing... just when I think I'm making some headway I get blown away by something like this. Gorgeous! Also, I've been experimenting with color...but black and white are just so basic, so striking, so elemental.

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  2. Thanks for commenting!
    You're definitely right about the similarities between Gág's work and Wood's. I don't know whether they ever worked together, but they were born the same year, so they were certainly working in the same atmosphere.
    I also like to play around with color sometimes, but I still keep coming back to black and white. What sort of work do you do?

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  3. Here's another nice linoleum block print by Gág:
    Country Road

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  4. Anne, thanks for posting information on another of my favorite print-maker.


    Wanda Gag's lithographs have a strong stylistic relationship to the lithos of Thomas Hart Benton (as noted above); they also have stylistic and thematic similarities (especially regarding nature and animal motifs) with the artwork of Heller West Heller: see Gag's zinc plate lithograph, "Winter Twilight," of 1927 and Heller's wood-engraving, "Intersection of Three Streets," of 1929. They were both young women when they left their midwestern homes to pursue an education and career in the visual arts in New York City; they were primarily printmakers and illustrators; they were free thinkers, and politically and socially liberals who contributed to socialist publications, including "The Liberator" and "New Masses"; they both signed the Call for an American Artist's Congress. There were differences between these creative women, of course, it is not known and very unlikely they developed a friendship during their years living in NYC.

    from my website on artists of the Congress of American Artists, 1936 and 1941 at http://pantherpro-webdesign.com/american-congress/artists_related.html

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  5. Thanks for the comments, Scatt. There was such a lot brewing in the artistic atmosphere at the time these artists were at work. It isn't surprising that they could have had a lot of common influences without knowing each other. But it's fun to see the similarities and the differences between them.

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