Philly Magic Gardens

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Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (PMG) is an immersive mixed media art environment, a space that is completely covered with mosaics. It was created by artist Isaiah Zagar who used handmade tiles, bottles, bicycle wheels, mirror, and international folk art. He used these medias to chronicle his life. The space grew slowly from the onset. First as two opposing sides of an open lot, to eventually including two indoor galleries and a bi-level sculpture garden between the buildings.

The history behind the project is worth understanding a bit more. Isaiah Zagar devoted much of his life to beautifying the South Street neighborhood, beginning in the late 1960’s. He and his wife, Julia, helped spur the revitalization of the area by renovating derelict buildings, adding colorful mosaics on both private and public walls. This period of artistic rebirth was coined the “South Street Renaissance,” which you can read more about here.

In 2004, the lot was threatened by demolition as an out-of-state land owner, eager to demo the space and sell the lot, called for the work to be dismanteled. In what is easy to reflect on as a ‘beautiful alignment of community’, but was more accurately a very tense and hard fought battle, the neighbors and surrounding community secured artistic environment and preserved the space as a 501(c)3 non-profit. Today, the PMG is open to the public. Offering visitors tours, art activities, hands-on interpretive experiences, workshops, concerts, exhibitions, and much more. You can read more about the Philly Magic Garden history and mission here.

Our visit to the PMG was perfectly timed on the warmest day of the year, to date. Although only 87deg, it felt much warmer given humidity and the cool, windy spring weather we had been used to. Attending during the heat of the afternoon, the PMG offered a significant temperature drop as we descended into the bi-level stone corridors. There is so much to see in such a small space that I could see spending a full afternoon exploring the nooks and crannies. But since we were burning the candle at both ends- starting the day with a bone marrow biopsy/LP at 8am and ending it here- we only stayed a little over an hour. That was a perfect taste of what the space had to offer.

If you get a chance to visit, be sure to pick-up the scavenger hunt at the entrance. There are so many minute details that it can be easy to look at an entire wall as one “piece” of art, when really each wall has hundreds of individual works. The scavenger hunt helps direct attention to each detail of the environment as you search for the hidden objects. Beaudin enjoyed the PMG, but I *really* wish I had known about it when Jude was visiting last week. He is a collector of things, loves items that sparkle, shine, and draw attention. He would have enjoyed this space in a way very unique to him. If he is ever back in Philly, this will be a non-negotiable.

2 comments

  1. This is the sort of thing that makes a big city so unique. It makes me want to go there now. Luke just returned from New York City. He loved the city vibe. So much vibrancy and color. So much happening all at once.

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