"Art is the center of the real world."

~Isaiah Zagar, award-winning Philadelphia born mosaic artist.


Zagar has created public artworks for over 40 years and has influenced the creative community in the Philadelphia area. His works are in permanent collections and in many art institutions such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

For someone like me who has trouble letting go, this "garden" was an eye opener. The tunnels and the grottos contain one surprise after another.

Surround old cups and saucers, broken and discarded figurines, all kinds of bottles and tires with glittering shards of mirror and you might get the general idea of the magic of these walls. Someone went to a lot of trouble to keep what most of us would throw out in the trash heap each week.

There is beauty in chaos. The afternoon light reflects through the blue and amber coloured glass bottles to create a stunning, sparkling effect that is no doubt, magical.

However, I also kept thinking that the display was an effective statement about excesses in our society, and of the flotsam and jetsam of our presence on this planet.

The gardens are as shocking as they are beautiful. The glittering mirrored walls with artistic statements ensconced here and there, are in stark contrast to the plain rubber tires, and other mundane objects encased in the many layered walls of the property.

The fenced-in site at 1020 South Street, the vision and art work of Isaiah Zagar, is a two-part gallery which takes up a half block on Philadelphia's quirky South Street. The indoor section includes fully tiled rooms, the appetizer to the main course, the outdoor gardens, with tiles of all kinds as well as bicycle wheels, bottles, old dishes, cutlery, you name it, and it is probably used in some form or other on the walls, ceiling, or floor.

The outdoor section and its several tunnels or corridors draw the viewer further into the heart of the "garden". No two areas are the same. The stairs for each of the sections then lead back to a main area similar to an inner courtyard where I admired the mirrored mosaics on the building's outer walls. Truly a feast for the eyes.

This is not however, the only attraction on South Street. Zagar has also mosaicked other properties in the area.

The magic definitely extends to the neighbourhood. Alleyways are adorned with the most startling mosaics. Parking lots, private courtyards, porch pillars, and driveways are works of art too beautiful to be hidden behind gates but as these are private places, it isn't always possible to get up close to the murals in the South Street neighbourhoods.

Philadelphia Murals

We visited the South Street area on a pleasant Monday in September around noon time. It was just a perfect day for this type of activity. There were very few people in the Gardens and we were able to take photos at our leisure and ogle all the art work for as long as we wanted.

I feel that I need to visit this area again with a site map in hand. I know that I missed seeing many of the other public Zagar murals in the area. By the time we were done with the Magic Gardens, we were hungry and thirsty and searching for a restaurant or pub. Just a few blocks away, we happened upon Brauhaus Schmitz which claims to be Philly's "only authentic German Bierhall and Restaurant." As I write this today, I know that the restaurant is celebrating Oktoberfest. The food is delicious and their specialty beers list is extensive.

It was a memorable day and a great way to end my week long trip to the Philadelphia area. Thanks to friends Linda and Joanne who introduced me to another marvellous neighbourhood in Philadelphia.

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