Wanda Gag House brings artwork home

Alexander Roth, the curator for the new exhibit at the Wanda Gag house, stands next to a print by created by Flavia Gag. This print was one of the over 300 pieces created by members of the Gag family that was acquired by The Wanda Gag House last year.

NEW ULM — The Wanda Gag House Association held a special open house Thursday at the Wanda Gag home to celebrate the start of the touring season and give the public a chance to see works of art never before displayed in New Ulm

Late last year, the Wanda Gag House Association and Brown County Historical Society (BCHS) purchased a treasure trove of Gag art pieces. The collection comes from a descendant of Wanda Gag’s younger sister Stella Gag.

Wanda Gag House board president Cara Knauf said the purchase included 357 pieces of art created by Wanda Gag and her sister Flavia Gag. Due to the large number of new pieces, not everything could be displayed. Art director Alexander Roth had the difficult task of curating the new exhibits in the Gag house.

He said about 15 larger pieces, including watercolors and lithographs were newly added to the house. Another 60 smaller pieces were added as part of a collage. These were the smaller pieces created by Wanda in her youth. The collage is placed in a frame in the main parlor on the first floor.

Knauf said as kid, Wanda Gag would draw on anything she could find. This included scrapes of paper, bags, the inside covers of books.

Alexander Roth, the curator for the new exhibit at the Wanda Gag house points to watercolor created by Flavia Gag, depicting the stone bridge in New York’s Central Park. Roth said Flavia was never as well known as her sister Wanda, but was also talented.

Some of the pieces were signed by Wanda Gag and include her age.

“It is interesting to see how Wanda progressed,” Knauf said. “Her attention to detail improved.”

Knauf was also surprised to see so many early portraits, which she said were “beautiful.”

Another thing that makes these smaller pieces special is they were likely drawn by Wanda when she was living in New Ulm at 226 N.Washington Street. Now, after nearly a century, these early sketches are back home.

“This is so incredible,” Roth said of the Gag House and it’s displays. The Whitney American Museum of Modern art in New York is currently featuring an exhibition of Wanda Gag’s art. He said to have her childhood home and so many unique pieces was a great addition to New Ulm. “It’s a wonderful gem in the community.”

Many of the Gag family pieces purchased by the Wanda Gag House and Brown County Historical Society included early sketches done by Wanda Gag. These sketches were drawn on any type of paper Wander could find. These pieces are currently on display as a collage at the Wanda Gag House.

Roth said one of the greatest challenges of curating this new collection is understanding the Wanda Gag House is a house and not a gallery.

Roth and Knauf described the Gag House as a piece of art in of itself. The home was created by Wanda’s father Anton Gag, who was also an artist. The challenge became how much of the newly acquired pieces should be displayed at one time.

Roth said they are still working out a rotation schedule to show more of the pieces, but said some of the works are too fragile to display at this time. Part of the curation process is keeping the artwork safe from becoming damage. Some of the works, if exposed to light, could fade. Roth said they are still working with the BCHS to determine which pieces can be safely shown.

Asked about some of the more impressive pieces currently on display, Roth said he was blown away by a watercolor painted by Flavia Gag. He said Flavia was not as well known as Wanda, but was very talented on her own. A print of her watercolor is on displayed on the house’s second floor, in what was once the children’s room.

On the main floor, Roth pointed to a lithograph Wanda drew of a firehose. Roth as a special affinity for this piece because he’s seen the real location. Wanda drew the hose in a rear stairwell at the Macy’s building in New York.

Mayor Kathleen Backer views some of Wanda Gag’s earliest sketches during a special open house held in Wanda’s childhood home.

Roth was confident the Wanda Gag House would see a lot of visitors this season. The addition of the new pieces would bring new people, but since her book “Millions of Cats” entered the public domain this year, interest in Gag has increased.

Knauf said the Gag House is already seeing more calls for tours.

“We’ve had a lot of appointment for tours,” she said. “We’ve had five tours in May already.”

People requesting tours are often Wanda Gag fans, but there also many people who are interested in the house itself.

“The house itself is a piece of history,” Knauf said.

The Wanda Gag House, located at 226 N.Washington Street in New Ulm, is ready for the summer tourism season to begin. The house recently acquired hundreds of new art pieces created by Wanda and other members of her family. Many of these items are currently on display in the house for the first time.

Roth is excited for more people to see and learn about Gag.

“It is important to get the story out there,” Roth said. “She was more than an artist. She was a feminist and early suffragette. She is so inspiring and we are lucky to have so much of her here,” he said.

The Wanda Gag House is open to tours on the weekends through Oktoberfest. Tours are also available by appointment. Those interested in touring the home outside of the weekend are asked to call or email ahead to arrange appointment times.


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