Friday, April 12, 2013

Artist Date: The Magic Gardens

Have you ever visited a place so unique, so unusual, so enchanting that you can scarcely believe that such a place even exists?  That you wonder why it took you so long to discover it?  That you can't wait for your next opportunity to go there again?
Street view of the Magic Gardens
The Magic Gardens at 10th and South Street in Philadelphia is just such a place.

Back in the year 2000, when I lived in Center City, I would see a really cool mosaicked wall on the building across the street from the Super Fresh where I shopped.  There were other little patches of mosaic along South Street that always drew my eye.  
Fast forward to 2013, and I hear about this place--the Magic Gardens--just two blocks from where I lived all those years ago.  How had I missed it?  It turns out that the artist, Isaiah Zagar, began his huge mosaic masterpiece project in 2004, three years after I moved out to the suburbs.  What had been a fairly overgrown lot next to that wall I used to love has been transformed into a multi-layer wonderland of tile, mirrors, bottles, ceramics, bicycle wheels, and really any other object that captured the artist's eye over the decade that he worked on it.
This photo shows somewhat of a close-up of the different materials Mr. Zagar uses.
My Artist Date to this truly magical place was as a group affair, bringing fascination and inspiration to three generations:  my mother, me, and my two daughters.
My five-year-old on an adventure at the Gardens
My mother standing in one of the many hallways of the multi-layered space.
In fact, Mr. Zagar was there on Monday when we visited! 
I snuck a photo of Mr. Zagar when I first saw him, before I had a chance to ask him for permission!
When my mother complimented his work, he gave her a big hug!  And he gave me permission to take his photo as he worked, and allowed the girls to pat his adorable dog, Blue.
He moved around the space with large buckets and cloths and a few pieces of who-knows-what that he added to the already bursting mosaic design.
A young man gave a brief talk at one point, sharing information about the types of objects that comprise the mosaic design of the space.  He also revealed that Mr. Zagar has purchased a large warehouse space several blocks south of the Magic Gardens that he is beginning to work on transforming with his art. 
Truly I can think of no comparable space to the Magic Gardens.  My daughters were amazed, and delighted in the freedom they had to wander around at will, checking out the tunnels, caves, and cubbies around the space.
My four-year-old tucks herself into a mosaicked niche.
There were benches and seats in other parts of the lot so you can sit down and just marinate in all there is to consider about the place. 
There are some interesting details to notice, such as messages and fortune cookie fortunes tucked into the bottles before they were cemented to Mr. Zagar's design.
My mother read a newspaper article posted near the entrance of the Magic Gardens, discovering that Mr. Zagar is in his mid-70s, and has a life history of mental health and interpersonal issues.  Many of his works of art around the garden reflect some of these preoccupations.
Now I am interested in taking my husband to the Gardens some evening, so that I can see the mosaics lit up by all of the little lights and candles scattered throughout.

Take a moment to look at the web site for the Magic Gardens to see some more photographs and look through some of the opportunities for events and classes.  I highly recommend adding a stop at the Gardens to your itinerary if you are anywhere near Philadelphia!


Karen Isaacson said...

I just learned about this place a month ago when another blogging friend visited. Absolutely amazing! I really want to go.

uncustomary said...

This was one of my favorite things I did last year. I'm absolutely in love with the space. I'm super jealous that he was there when you were!! I love that he just comes to keep working at random intervals. <3

Parabolic Muse said...

Oh MY!
I must see this.
Great photos, Andria.

Jane LaFazio said...

oh yea! this looks like a place/neighborhood I saw in Cuba. very cool and on my itinerary for my next visit to Philadelphia. thanks!

TheSnailMailer said...

It was awesome to get to meet you and I will have to check out some of the gems you mentioned in Philly.