Famous Mosaics – Philly’s Fabulous Magic Gardens

This summer the Tile Park is taking the show on the road! We’re paying a virtual visit to the most famous mosaics of the world… from China to Spain to the US… tile parks, record-breaking installations, ancient murals, points of interest and so much more. Join us!

Pack your bags, virtual travelers! This week’s trip is truly special. We’re headed to Philadelphia PA, and a place called the Magic Gardens. Why so special? Because this is the artist whom Natasha learned from: Isaiah Zagar.

In the early 1990’s, what is now a tourist destination drawing more than 150,000 visitors annually, was nothing but an abandoned lot near his studio. Isaiah had been perfecting his own style of outsider art, a mosaic technique incorporating found objects such as bottles, plates, bicycle tires, and whatever else might look interesting. So he began applying his method here, in the abandoned lot near his studio at 1020 South Street. It would be years of work, and not without some drama, but in 2008 Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens would finally open to the public.

I talked to Isaiah about the apprenticeships he offered in the 90’s, allowing budding artists a chance to immerse in his process. He mentioned that he loved doing them because they “allowed for such possibilities”. Natasha took advantage of one such opportunity, and the knowledge imparted on her has changed the face of Vallarta. So yes, possibilities. I’ve seen some of them with my own eyes, and you likely have too.

The Magic Gardens consists of an outdoor portion, and two indoor galleries. Everywhere you look, there is something interesting to see. Using hand-painted tiles, found objects, and things to tell his story as an artist, bit by bit the Gardens came together. A true labor of love and a clear demonstration of Isaiah’s need to set himself apart as an artist.

These days, this nonprofit museum known as Magic Gardens brings in more than 150,000 visitors each year, and employs 26 people. Though Isaiah is now retired he says he goes there often, “to sit”. He and his wife Julia have deep roots in this neighborhood. Way back in 1968 they opened Eye’s Gallery (still run by Julia), a showcase of Peruvian crafts and Latin American folk art. South Street was a pretty rough part of town at the time, but they settled there anyway… they saw possibilities… and over the years the area has blossomed around them.

They are true urban pioneers, Isaiah and Julia, blazing their own trail. I like to think a bit of that rubbed off on Nat, and that we’re all part of an artistic trailblazing, right here in Vallarta.

You can learn more about the Magic Gardens here:phillymagicgardens.org
Check out Eye’s Gallery here: eyesgallery.com