A Magic Garden in Philadelphia

As autumn descends from the horizon and creeps closer, I like to seek outdoor entertainment. Any excuse to soak in those last, sweet days of summer before hat & coat weather comes rolling in.

artfully decorated bridgeOn a beautifully such, Sunday afternoon I went to Philadelphia’s Magic Garden, an indoor and outdoor tile, metal, and glass celebration of Isaiah Zagar’s creativity. In 1994, it was a vacant lot near his studio that he decided to decorate. By the time he completed the work in 2008 it had grown to cover a half block and become a non-profit organization dedicated to preserving the artworks while also putting on workshops, concerts, and other public events to help spread the joy of art and creative activity.

Isaiah ZagarIsaiah Zagar and his wife, Julia, moved to the South street neighborhood in 1968 and shortly thereafter he began to decorate buildings in the community with his mosaic murals. Some are eye-catching colors with mirrors, others sit discretely above windows and doors. We walked past a few of them on our way to the gallery. I love how art can transform a public area into something more communally intimate.

There was a bit of a line when we arrived but it moved fast. While waiting, we hung out along a sculpted and tiled wall with wrought iron gate. I got to peep through holes and bars as we moved forward, however, looking in from the outside didn’t do it justice.

artfully decorated courtyardThe courtyard is a multilevel maze of open air walkways, hallways, tiny rooms, a petite amphitheater-like space, and an eating area with a few patio tables. Nearly every surface, public and private, was covered in tile, broken crockery, glass, bottles, metal bike parts, found objects, and mirrors. Surrounding every step was something to see and then something else right behind it. Likewise the building on the inside, floor to ceiling mosaic with an occasional sculpture or wall hanging nearby.

Art tiled floorWrite-ups, both in the gallery and online, tend to describe the man as a prolific and somewhat self-absorbed artist with a history of wrestling the demons of childhood trauma. Portions of his work reflect this in raw detail. Subjects of religion, severe introspection, political commentary, and personal struggles were tucked between, and adorned with, swathes of color and fanciful imagery.

The gallery doesn’t mind if you take photos, but I spent so much time up close and personal with the art that I neglected to get very many. If you’d like to see and learn more about this intriguing installation, here is their website: http://www.phillymagicgardens.org/

monkey on a shelfI have a feeling that this place would be even more magical in the winter. If I’m around the area when the flakes start drifting, I’ll have to stop in on a sunny, snowy day (or frosty, moonlit night) for whole ‘nother experience.

Pleasantly, there are plenty of warm places in this neighborhood to stop in afterwards for a nosh or drink, to take off a well earned chill.