Magic Gardens - Philadelphia

"Art is the center of the real world."

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

For this week's Throwback Thursday, I am looking back to 2015 when I visited Philadelphia's Magic Gardens.  A non-profit organization, this extraordinary folk art gallery is within walking distance of the Liberty Bell, which I also visited at that time.

Isaiah Zagar has created public artworks for over 40 years and has been an influence on 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.


If like me, you keep mirrors and ceramics, just in case you might be inspired to use them one day, then this place is for you!

As you walk through the “gardens” which in fact are tunnels and grottos, and little hidden rooms,  the eyes are assaulted with much visual stimulation.  After the initial shock, each nook and cranny is a very pleasant surprise.

Surround old cups and saucers, broken and discarded figurines, all kinds of bottles and tire rims with glittering shards of mirror encased in cement and you might get the general idea of the “magic” of these walls.

In these gardens, beauty is chaos or is it chaos is beauty?  Well, no matter! The mid- afternoon light shimmers through the blue and amber coloured glass bottles to create a stunning, sparkling effect that is no doubt, magical.

Magic Gardens - Philadelphia
Magic Gardens - Philadelphia

But wait!  Is there another way to look at this?

Might the display be a statement about excesses in our society, and of the flotsam and jetsam of our presence on this planet?  This thought crossed my mind as I walked around walls filled with so much of what most of us might consider just old, useless, trash.

The glittering mirrored walls with artistic statements ensconced here and there, are in stark contrast to the bicycle tire rims, and other mundane objects encased in the many layered walls of the property.

The shock of the gardens lies in the beauty of the everyday items when they are displayed so lovingly.

Below, the large room or inner courtyard with its thousands of pieces of mirrors.  Quite spectacular, wouldn’t you say?

Magic Gardens - Philadelphia
Magic Gardens - Philadelphia
Magic Gardens - Philadelphia

Above, one of the “tunnels” or stairways leading to small chambers, narrow hallways filled with more folksy art.

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. It is here, that you will find tiles of all kinds as well as bicycle wheels, bottles, old dishes, cutlery, countless pieces of mirror and ceramics, you name it, and it is probably used in some form or other on the walls, ceiling, or floor.

The visitor is naturally drawn 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. Many homes in the neighbourhood have adopted the tiled, mosaics style of the nearby gardens.  Zagar has left his mark on many other properties in the area.

With the word “intent” plainly visible, and the mosaics leading the eye all the way up to the roof, this is a splendid improvement to what would have been a very plain, ho-hum building.

South Street mural - Philadelphia

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.

South Street mural - Philadelphia
South Street mural - Philadelphia
South Street mural - Philadelphia
Philadelphia Murals
South Street mural - Philadelphia

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 second trip to the Philadelphia area.

Thanks to friends Linda and Joanne who introduced me to another marvellous place in Philadelphia.

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