Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

Isaiah Zagar works with tile. Isaiah Zagar works with mirrors, glass, terracotta, found objects, doilies, folk art, and tile. We visited his spectacular Magic Garden on South Street this weekend and marveled at the amazing mosaics he creates. As I walked down South Street in the bitter cold, I spotted more than one building with a mirrory-mosaic facade that I hoped would be the destination and save me from the icy February winds. But no, Isaiah Zagar has applied his magic mosaics to many buildings in the South Street area. (Come to think of it, I have noticed these distinctive mosaics for years in this area. Now I know where they came from!)

Inside the Magic Garden gallery

Finally inside 1020 South Street, we pay our five dollar admission and set out to explore. We were lucky enough to catch a tour that took us around the building, into the basement, and outside into the mosaic labyrinth. It's mesmerizing to look at this art and listen to our guide telling the story. Zagar is a trained artist (the Pratt Institute in NYC), and he and his wife Julia spent some years in Peru volunteering with the Peace Corps. This explains the South American folk art influence. After the Peace Corps stint, the couple returned to Philadelphia where Julia has run the Eye's Gallery on South Street for over three decades. (I think I bought earrings there in college.) Talk about following your dreams!

Zagar sees himself as a four-armed man and commissions other artists to envision him this way. 

Even on a cloudy day, the mirrors seem to catch any available sunlight and make the building exteriors shimmer. Inside, floors, walls, and ceilings are covered with three-dimensional mosaics which include plates, bottles, and folk art imported by Julia that was damaged in transit. The colors are bold, the mirrors reflect, and as your eyes take it all in, you recognize bigger forms (people and animals) and words.

These outside stairs were very slippery Sunday, so we did not go down them.

Outside we had to be careful because of ice. The tiles on the ground can't be salted or shoveled because they might be damaged, so we carefully found our way through the mosaic wonderland. If it hadn't been so cold I could have sat there for hours on a mosaic bench just looking. And shooting photos!
Can you see me?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Looks amazing! After reading your blog, I really want to make the trip to South Street. Thanks for the info.