Go Here: The Magic Gardens in Philadelphia
Like most awesome things in life, the Philadelphia Magic Gardens (PMG) on South Street in downtown Philly is a labor of love. So we’re clear — this is the work of one man.
Visionary artist (a term used to describe a self-taught artist) Isaiah Zagar began the PMG project in 1994 in the vacant lot next to his studio. A walking tour of Philadelphia shows just how much of an influence Zagar has had on the city, as Zagar has been creating mosaic art to beautify his neighborhood since the 1960s when he first moved to Philly; he and his wife have purchased and renovated many abandoned buildings in the area, and they’re easy to spot by their large mosaic exterior wall art, especially when Isaiah is standing in front of it, which is likely, since he’s a man-about-town:
Despite his prolific presence in Philly, nowhere is Isaiah’s vision easier to see than at the Magic Gardens. After building a fence around the lot to protect his work in 1994, Zagar spent the next 14 years excavating tunnels and grottos, sculpting walls, and tiling and grouting 3,000 square feet of wall space with his own handmade tiles. PMG includes references to his own life, his artistic and musical influences, the history of Philadelphia, Mexican folklore, and current events such as the 9/11 tragedy.
Now complete and spanning half a city block, the PMG includes both an indoor installation and outdoor sculpture garden, and serves as a community gallery and arts center. This is not your typical, neatly-arranged mosaic, though; the installation includes folk art statues, bicycle wheels, colorful glass bottles, Zagar’s hand-made tiles, and thousands of glittering mirrors.
When we visited, we met Isaiah, and because we’re weirdos we later sent him a letter, expressing our devotion and telling him that we wished we could have taken a piece of his mosaic with us when we left. He wrote back within a week, and sent us a piece of broken plate from the wall.
PMG is a non-profit community organization that is open daily to visitors and hosts low-cost public programs geared towards inspiring creativity and engaging the community about folk art, mosaic, and the visionary artist movement.
Though nothing can compare to seeing this incredible place up close, this video tour will give you a sneak peek of what’s in store when you do make the trip: