Born in New Ulm, Minnesota, Wanda Gág grew up hearing the fairy tales of her parents’ native Bohemia, in a household filled with music and literature.
Her father was an artist who supported the family by decorating houses and churches, and he encouraged her interest in art. She attended art school in St. Paul and Minneapolis, and won a scholarship to study at the Art Students League in New York in 1917.
Although first and foremost a printmaker (she had one-woman shows at the New York Public Library and the Weyhe Gallery, and was featured in group shows at the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum, New York during the 1930s and 1940s), her true fame rests with her children’s books.
Millions of Cats won the Newbery Honor Award in 1929, and The ABC Bunny was given the same honor in 1934.
Her art grew out of her Bohemian heritage, yet is distinctly her own, using bold, strong, lines and sinuous forms which make inanimate objects terrifyingly alive, and living creatures — such as her cats, her mice, and herself, whimsically engaging.
In his “Notes on the Spiral Press” Joseph Blumenthal remembered Wanda Gág.
Writing about the calendars they sent to friends of the press in the 1920s (each decorated with six woodcuts by young American printmakers), he recalled that “Wanda Gág made heroes of subjects in our printshop, to the dismay of our compositors and pressmen who thought wheels should really be round.”
Red Riding Hood, by Lydia L. A. Very, and Jacob Grimm; 1863; Boston, Published by L. Prang.
The first mass-produced book to deviate from a rectilinear format, at least in the United States, is thought to be this 1863 edition of Red Riding Hood, cut into the shape of the protagonist herself with the troublesome wolf curled at her feet.
Produced by the Boston-based publisher Louis Prang, this is the first in their “Doll Series”, a set of five “die-cut” books, known also as shape books — the other titles being Robinson Crusoe, Goody Two-Shoes (also written by Red Riding Hood author Lydia Very), Cinderella, and King Winter.
An 1868 Prang catalogue would later claim that such “books in the shape of a regular paper Doll… originated with us”.
It would seem the claim could also extend to die cut books in general, as we can’t find anything sooner.
As for this particular rendition of Charles Perrault’s classic tale, the text and design is by Lydia Very (1823-1901), sister of Transcendentalist poet Jones Very.
The gruesome ending of the original — which sees Little Red Riding Hood being gobbled up as well as her grandmother — is avoided here, the gore giving way to the less bloody aims of the morality tale, and the lesson that one should not disobey one’s mother.
Whereas most Catholics are baptized into their religion as infants by being gently dunked under cleansing waters, absolving them of their innate original sin, in the Spanish village of Castrillo de Murcia fresh babes are laid in the street as men dressed in traditional devil costumes run around jumping over them, terrorizing onlookers.
The yearly festival known locally as “El Colacho” takes place during the village’s religious feast of Corpus Christi.
No concrete origin for the bizarre ritual exists, but it dates back to at least the early 1600s.
During the holiday parents with children born during the previous year bring the little tikes out and place them in neat rows of pillows spaced out down a public street.
Then, while the excited parents look on, men dressed in bright yellow costumes, and grotesque masks begin filing through the crowd, whipping bystanders with switches and generally terrorizing everyone.
But this is all fun and games as the main event is when these “devils” run down the street jumping over the rows of babies like Olympic hurdlers.
Once the little sinners have been jumped over they are considered absolved of man’s original transgression, and they are sprinkled with rose petals before being taken away by their (likely very relieved) parents.
While there are no reports of injuries or babalities caused by the flying devils, the strange practice is frowned upon by the clergy of the Catholic Church with the Pope going so far as to ask the Spanish people to distance themselves from the ritual.
However El Colacho continues to take place each year.
No one can tell this village that they can’t send their devil-men careening over helpless infants.