Isaiah Zagar’s Magic Garden in Philadelphia is one more fantastic example of the power of art to turn around a neighborhood’s fortune.
Back in the late 1960’s, Philadelphia’s South Street was a derelict area, lined with vacant properties. This is when Julia and Isaiah Zagar moved into the neighborhood to live and to start a small business selling Latin American folk arts. Inspired by the work of Spanish architect Gaudi and outsider artist Clarence Schmidt and the famous French art brut builder, Ferdinand Cheval, Isaiah began his mosaic work decorating the storefront for Julia’s store, the Eyes Gallery. (Eyes Gallery is still thriving today. It has expanded its offerings to global folk arts, carefully selected by Julia Zagar–well worth a visit!)
Teaming up with other artist activists, the Zagars helped transform South Street into an artists’ enclave Together they successfully protested the construction of a proposed highway that would have ripped through the neighborhood. Continuing on with his mosaic work, Isaiah began his ambitious transformation of two vacant lots at 1020 South Street.
Here’s what you first see when you encounter 1020 South street from the sidewalk:
Keep looking up and turn your head:
Turn your head again:
Now walk in:
and drink it in for a couple of hours, winding your way through the arches, tunnels,and pathways of the Magic Garden.
The story goes that after nearly a decade of obsessive work at 1020 South Street
the Boston-based property owner caught wind of what was transpiring on the property he had assumed was vacant. He tried to force Zagar to buy the property on which he was squatting and threatened to demolish the whole thing if Zagar refused. After a two year legal battle the friends who banded together to save Zagar’s masterpiece won their fight by purchasing the property and founding the non profit, the Philadelphia Magic Garden. And so began the “Renaissance of South Street“, now one of the hippest, most vibrant and fun neighborhoods of Philadelphia.
Time for a little more touring–there’s so much to see at the magic garden.
Here and there is evidence of Julia and Isaiah’s time spent in Latin America:
And everywhere you can see Isaiah’s distinctive, fluid, linear style as he draws and re-draws the human figure:
Time for a bathroom break? Well, take your time:
I no longer know which way is up…
And don’t be too sad if you’re up against closing time at Magic Garden (open every day except Tuesdays), because there’s 20 more humongous Isaiah Zagar murals scattered throughout Philadelphia, starting with several other buildings just down the street:
You’ll just keep stumbling upon Isaiah’s work as you walk about town:
Thank you Isaiah Zagar and THANK YOU ARTISTS EVERYWHERE for making the world a visual feast.
PS If you wish YOU could mosaic like Isaiah, you can! He offers weekend workshops monthly, spring through fall, in which you’ll participate in the creation of new murals about town. Check his website for info.