Isaiah Zagar

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Isaiah Zagar
Isaiah Zagar crop.jpg
Isaiah Zagar in his Magic Gardens (2007)
Born 1939
Nationality American
Education Pratt Institute
Known for Sculpture, Ceramics, Mosaic
Notable work(s) Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

Isaiah Zagar (born 1939) is a Philadelphia mosaic artist. He is notable for his murals which are primarily in or around Philadelphia's South Street.

Early life[edit]

Zagar received his Bachelor of Art from the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, New York City.[1] In 1968, after serving in the Peace Corps for three years in Peru, Zagar and his wife, Julia, moved to South Philadelphia where they opened the Latin American shop The Eyes Gallery on South Street.[2] In December 1968, the Eyes Gallery was the site of Zagar's first mosaic, Zagar mosaiced it as a way to create a folk art environment for the art they were selling.


Part of Zagar's Magic Garden.

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, Zagar's largest South Street mosaic work, is both an exhibition space and an outdoor maze of mosaics inlaid with poetry and quotes, and utilizing many recycled materials, including bottles, bike wheels and ceramic pieces. One line reads, "I built this sanctuary to be inhabited by my ideas and my fantasies." Another says, "Remember walking around in this work of fiction."

Zagar says of his personal creative philosophy,

In 1959 when I was 19 years old I was introduced to the folk art environment of Clarence Schmidt, My Mirrored Hope, Woodstock, New York, USA. Soon after in 1961 there was a groundbreaking exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, in New York City called The Art of Assemblage. Because that exhibition included assemblages of artists like Pablo Picasso, Jean Dubuffet, Kurt Schwitters, Antonio Gaudi alongside of untrained brickaleurs Clarence Schmidt, Simon Rodia and Joseph Ferdinand Cheval that gave me as a trained artist the rationale to include their concepts as manifestations of fine art. At a crucial time in my life it allowed me to begin what could be called a life's work making the city of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania into a labyrinthine mosaic museum that incorporates all my varied knowledge and skills.[3]

In 2002 the owner of the two vacant lots on which Zagar built Philadelphia's Magic Gardens demanded he buy the property for $300,000 or he would have it demolished.[4] Through fund raising, private donations, and taking out a loan, the property was able to be saved, and the non profit organization, Philadelphia's Magic Gardens, was formed,[5]

The front of the Painted Bride Art Center, showing Zagar's Skin of the Bride mosaic, which covers the entire building; the text along the top says "The Bride has many suitors, even", a reference to Marcel Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors, Even

From 1991 to 2000 Zagar mosaiced the entire outside of the Painted Bride Art Center on Vine Street between N. 2nd and N. 3rd Streets in the Old City neighborhood of Philadelphia, a work he entitled Skin of the Bride, which he donated to the center.[6][7]

Zagar continues to create mosaic murals in Philadelphia, mainly around the South Street area. To date he has completed over 200 of these murals. He hosts a weekend workshop during the last weekend of each month April - October where participants can assist him in creating a new mural in the community. Much of Zagar's work is completed free of charge or is commissioned by businesses or people in the area. A walking tour is available from Philadelphia's Magic Gardens which takes visitors to 20 of these mosaic murals.[8]

Awards and honors[edit]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c "Isaiah Zagar". The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. 1995. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  2. ^ Lidz, Franz (August 13, 2009). "Studying Dad’s Favorite Topic: Himself". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  3. ^ "About Isaiah". Archived from the original on 2009-10-24. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  4. ^ Macdonald, John; Macdonald, Sally (July 21, 2006). "Rebuilding South Philly, piece by piece". The Seattle Times. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  5. ^ Walsh, Tracy (January 1, 2008). "Trash to Treasure". My Midwest. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 
  6. ^ Plaque on the north west corner of the Painted Bride Art Center building
  7. ^ Augustine, Betsy "Philadelphia's Magic Gardens: The Art of Isaiah Zagar" Open Eyes Press, Philadelphia, 2004 (pg 16-17)
  8. ^ Philadelphia's Magic Gardens website
  9. ^ Lehmkuhl, Vance (April 17, 2009). "Isaiah Zagar: He's a Magic (Gardens) Man". Philadelphia Daily News. Retrieved 2010-02-12. 

External links[edit]