One of Pennsylvania’s hidden gems is Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. Located in the South Street neighborhood, the gardens consist of a folk art center, gallery space, and a nonprofit organization showcasing the works of the artist, Isaiah Zagar.
After moving to the area with his wife Julia, the couple purchased and renovated buildings, adding beautiful mosaics on both public and private walls. The artist’s largest public mosaic installation, Zagar devoted himself to glamorizing the neighborhood in the late 1960s.
The first major project the couple took on was Julia’s folk art store, located at 402 South Street. In 1994, Zagar started working on the Magic Gardens – he spent the next fourteen years sculpting multi-layered walls. The installation pays tribute to Zagar’s influences and tells stories of the artist’s life experiences.
The installation, consisting mainly of objects found throughout the community, covers half a city block, adding texture and color, revealing art from Asia and Latin America, hand-made tiles made by Zagar, and mirrors in every shape, size, and form.
When South Street property values sky-rocketed, in 2002, the owner of buildings 1022 to 1026 decided to sell his land. The community was torn up over the thought of the destruction of Zagar’s neighborhood – they rushed to support the artist. His work became incorporated as a non-profit organization with the intention of persevering Zagar’s works throughout the Magic Gardens and the South Street region.
Thanks to the community’s action, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens are now a permanent institution that is open all year round. When you visit the gardens, trained guides will lead you through the public murals. The nonprofit even offers monthly mosaic workshops led by the man behind the magic, Isaiah Zagar himself!