About Isaiah Zagar

Isaiah Zagar and his former assistant Majid Iraei stand in front of a mosaicked wall.
Isaiah Zagar with artist Majid Iraei

Isaiah Zagar (born 1939) is an award-winning mosaic mural artist whose work can be found on more than 200 public walls throughout the city of Philadelphia and around the world. Born in Philadelphia and raised in Brooklyn, Zagar received his B.F.A. in Painting & Graphics at the Pratt Institute of Art in New York City. When he was 19 years old, Zagar discovered the art environment of Clarence Schmidt in Woodstock, New York. This shaped his ideas of what art could be and started a lifelong interest in art environments and their creators.

Isaiah Zagar’s artwork is heavily influenced by his travels and the personal connections he has made with international folk and visionary artists. Isaiah and his wife Julia completed three years of Peace Corps service in Peru in the mid-1960s, working with folk artists in the Puno region near Lake Titicaca. Soon after, they settled in Philadelphia and began their life’s work of creating public art and fostering creativity in all its varied forms.

After moving to Philadelphia Isaiah experienced a mental health crisis that prompted his first experiments with mosaics. He used the work as therapy and started to create his own art environment. At the same time the Zagars opened the Eye’s Gallery. The store featured Latin American folk art collected from their travels. Julia continues to run the business today.

Isaiah and Julia Zagar still live nearby PMG on South Street. Isaiah no longer works independently on mosaics, but he does occasionally work with PMG’s preservation team to create new tiles, drawings, and mosaics with their assistance. In 2023 he was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. That same year Isaiah and Julia donated his massive studio space on Watkins Street to PMG, including the thousands of artworks stored there. This ensures his legacy and work will be preserved for decades to come.

Isaiah Zagar’s work is included in the permanent collections of numerous art institutions, including the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, and has been featured in solo exhibitions throughout the Philadelphia area. He has received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Pew Charitable Trusts. In addition to his three-year Peace Corps service in Peru, Isaiah has completed artist residencies in Tianjin, China, and Rajasthan, India. He also participated in a residency at the Kohler Co. Pottery Foundry in Wisconsin.

The personal story of Zagar and his family is captured in the award-winning 2008 documentary, In A Dream, created by his son Jeremiah Zagar.

Find more information about Isaiah and Julia Zagar in our PDF Resource Sheet