I have a penchant for vintage USA road trip souvenirs. These two 1960s round metal trays caught my eye at the local thrift, two retro lovelies nestled in with the ubiquitous Norman Rockwell and other collectible plates. And lovelies they are: Hawaii and Virginia trays in good condition with enthusiastically colorful art and something else I’d never seen on a travel souvenir, a signature. Ken Haag.
I am familiar with Hawaii and Virginia. But who is Ken Haag? And why did his signature rate inclusion on a travel souvenir? Assuming he must be someone of note, I was pretty sure Google would give me an answer in less than a second. I was wrong.
Google was full of images for things Ken Haag illustrated, mostly small decorative state and wildlife trays, but void of biographical information. This seemed so unlikely. How can a man who turns up an unending number of results for people selling things with his illustrations not have a Wikipedia page? Or any biographical information? You can find anything on the internet. Information about Ken Haag had to be out there…
It was at this point that my to do list got shoved to the side and I, with a quizzically wrinkled brow and stubborn determination, went diving down the internet research rabbit hole. The hunt was on.
Initial searches like “Ken Haag artist” and “Ken Haag illustrator” turned up nothing. Except a Google book excerpt from Catalog of Copyright Entries: Third Series for giant gift tags printed by Peck Inc with illustrations by Ken Haag in the 1960s. Knowing he was an established artist working in the 1960s made me wonder if he might at this point be an older person. Or if he might have already passed away and there might possibly be an obituary. Nope. The only obit result was for a gentleman in Iowa who was clearly not the Ken Haag I was looking for.
Peck Inc. was a possible lead. The Vintage Recycling blog had a post about a vintage 1950s salesman’s sample book of gift tags from Peck Inc., located in Minnesota.
Minnesota. Hmm. I searched “Ken Haag artist Minnesota” and got a second Google book except, this time from The St. Paul Saints: Baseball in the Twin City. The highlighted reference is for the Johnson High School Hall of Fame where inductee Ken Haag is described as a sports artist.
Searching “Ken Haag sports illustration” resulted in an Ebay listing for a 1992 Lou Gehrig baseball card, with that Ken Haag signature big as life on the bottom.
At this point, I felt like I was surrounded by snips and snaps of info about Ken Haag but I still hadn’t found anything comprehensive. I knew it had to be out there. I just knew it. Translation: I’m too far into the rabbit hole to quit. Onward.
Next tidbits of info, a Worthpoint listing for a Vegas metal ashtray with this bit in the description: “Artist and illustrator Ken Haag was a Minnesota graphic artist, and his pieces are collectible for the way he combined evocative images of famous people and places.” And multiple Amazon listings for The Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine from the 1960s with Ken Haag as an author. Minnesota again!
And then, jackpot. A photograph in the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society of Ken Haag. Love his smile, love his jaunty tie. And really love the sign behind him, Haag Bureau of Artistry. Surely that will yield some…search…results…oh…none? Really?
Here’s a guy who was a prolific artist. Who signed everything as big as life. And I can figure out NOTHING about him? I kept plugging away with different search combinations based on what I knew and finally things started going my way.
First, a link to St. Paul’s Eastside Heritage Park. On the “They Came from the Eastside,” a huge leap forward.
Ken Haag (1932-1996) was a talented and prolific sports and wildlife artist, writer and newspaper and magazine illustrator. He was a frequent volunteer for Eastside projects. The preservation of Minnesota wildlife, especially birds and their habitats was an important focus of his adult life.
And then the breakthrough, a Facebook post by Minnesota’s Angling Past with a decent amount of biographical information. Including the fact that Mr. Haag passed away unexpectedly in 1996 at his Eastside home. And that Rep. Bruce Vento spoke warmly about Mr. Haag’s contributions to his community from the floor of the US House of Representatives a month after his death. From the record of that speech with the appended obituary, I finally found out just who Ken Haag was. “Ken was a constant and joyful volunteer. He lent real meaning to the role of citizenship, working as an artist, but deeply involved in music, education, environment and housing activities. He was a modern day renaissance man.” So said Rep. Vento.
His obituary listed his affiliations. He served in the Navy. He was a member of the St. Paul Swedish Mens Chorus. He was the president of the Minnesota Bird Club and the local elementary PTO. He was dedicated to education and the enviroment. He was the father of four daughters and a son. He was a husband and a grandfather. And, he was a talented creative illustrator.
So how does knowing this make me better able to sell Ken Haag’s souvenir trays. It doesn’t. But it does give me the satisfaction of finding out just who Ken Haag was. From now on, when his work passes my way, I will smile knowingly and say, “Ah yes, Ken Haag. He was quite a guy.”