© Debbie Zak Photography
Philadelphia's Magic Gardens (PMG) is a mosaicked visionary art environment, gallery, and community arts center that preserves, interprets, and provides access to Isaiah Zagar's unique mosaic art environment and his public murals. The Magic Gardens site, Zagar's largest artwork, includes a fully tiled indoor space and a massive outdoor mosaic sculpture garden that spans half a block on Philadelphia's famous South Street. Inside, visitors can view folk art statues, bicycle wheels, colorful glass bottles, Zagar's hand-made tiles, and thousands of glittering mirrors. The installation pays tribute to Zagar's artistic influences, along with community and personal experiences.
Open to visitors daily, PMG has become a unique Philadelphia destination, hosting year-round, low-cost public programs within its own distinctive venue and the surrounding community. PMG, a nonprofit organization, inspires creativity and community engagement by educating the public about folk, mosaic, and visionary art.
HistoryZagar has devoted himself to beautifying the South Street neighborhood since the late 1960s, when he moved to the area with his wife Julia. The couple helped spur the revitalization of the area by purchasing and renovating derelict buildings, often adding colorful mosaics on both their private and public walls. The first such project was Julia's still-thriving folk art store, the Eyes Gallery at 402 South Street.
Zagar started working on the Magic Gardens in 1994 in the vacant lot nearby his studio. He began by constructing a massive fence to protect the area from harm and then spent the next fourteen years excavating tunnels and grottos, sculpting multi-layered walls, and tiling and grouting the 3,000 square foot space. The installation pays tribute to Zagar's many artistic influences, as well as the events and experiences of his life. Enveloped in visual anecdotes, the mosaicked walls refer to his wife Julia and sons Ezekiel and Jeremiah through playful images and words, but also reference important elements of the wider world. Las Pozas and Day of the Dead, the dance community of Philadelphia, and even the airplanes of the nationwide 9/11 tragedy.
Founding the Organization
Philadelphia's Magic Gardens is now a permanent art institution that is open to visitors throughout the year. Trained guides are available to lead tours of the Magic Gardens and Zagar's surrounding public murals. In addition, PMG offers monthly mosaic workshops led by Zagar himself, and regularly hosts concerts, dance performances, and other public events.