Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Arts / Article

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (PMG), if you’ve been familiar with the city for any amount of time, is quite possibly something you’ve been clued into, if for no other reason than its age and magnitude. You may have only heard about it, or you have passed it while strolling on South Street. It’s not exactly hard to miss. Aside from its fixture as a living part of Philadelphia history, the Magic Gardens have a lot going on these days as well, even outside of its stunning murals.

The beginnings of the Magic Gardens can be traced to the 1960s, when artist Isaiah Zagar started to help beautify the South Street area after moving there with his wife, Julia. In 1994, after fencing in a lot near his studio, he began placing broken bits of tile, mirror and even objects like bottles and bicycle parts into the walls of the Garden. The lot began to transform into a labyrinth with tunnels, bridges and alcoves full of these shimmering bits of ceramics and trinkets.

There is no doubt that the feeling one has inside Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is certainly magical or mystical. Tiny references to a long life peek out from almost every corner: the names of Zagar’s wife and children, historical events, personal musings and sometimes cryptic images. The images remind one of a puzzle, except much larger, and fitting together much more loosely. The individual parts don’t all seem to fit, but when viewing it as a whole, every piece of tile seems important.

In the surrounding neighborhood, the walls bear the marks of bright and twisting mosaics through alleyways and across the gates of local residents. It would have been silly to think an artist as prolific as Zagar could or would keep his work contained to just one lot; instead his images snake their way out and into South Philly.


Inside, there is also space for others’ art, as well. Currently Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is hosting its summer show “The Visionnaires: An exhibition by Coalition Ingenu” until Sept. 4. Ingenu’s art is visionary and self-taught and is a wonderful complement to Zagar’s surrounding murals of the same vein. What better topic for a show in such a visionary locale? Educational opportunities are also available through Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, as well as public tours and monthly workshops with Zagar himself.

Stop by to see not only the Gardens, but any of the art on display, as well. Visit its website to check for hours and to stay informed on upcoming events. If you’ve never been inside Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, it’s definitely a must-see for anyone living in or visiting Philly — photos just won’t do it any justice.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens are located at 1020 South Street; 215-733-0390.