As a New Yorker, I have to admit that neighboring northeastern cities were never something I deeply yearned to visit nor places that most of my friends recommended to travel too. So, though I only live a two hour drive away from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the only time I ever visited that city was for a brief college tour when I was seventeen. Aside from the campuses I saw, I really don't remember much about the city. More recently, a friend suggested we visit Philly, a city she happened to grow up just outside of, for the 4th of July - where coincidentally the events that lead to the creation of the holiday took place. I was down to go. I was eager to leave New York for a little while and a destination so convenient to get to and new to me seemed like a good option...and it was.
There are many amazing things to do and see in Philadelphia, but what struck me the most was the amount of interesting and uniquely creative street art along its infamous South Street. At any random corner you might find something the city's residents referred to as a "mosaic bomb" - a mural crafted of several hand-made tiles and glittering mirrors. They make Philadelphia's streets a lot more interesting and beautiful in such a distinct way. These tiled murals reminded me in some way of the mosaic architecture of Antoni Gaudi found throughout Barcelona, Spain. And like Gaudi, the artist behind these mosaic bombs left his city an entire, impossible to replicate, building crafted in the same way as his murals. This place is known in Philadelphia as The Magic Gardens.
According to the destination's mission statement, "Philadelphia's Magic Gardens (PMG) inspires creativity and community engagement by educating the public about folk, mosaic, and visionary art. PMG preserves, interprets, and provides access to Isaiah Zagar's unique mosaic art environment and his public murals." From floor to ceiling, the space is entirely crafted by the artist, Isaiah Zagar's, beautiful mosaic art. It's unlike anything I've ever seen before with the sparkling mirrors and hand-made tiles weaving beautifully into boldly colored glass bottles, bicycle wheels and folk art statues. In addition to serving as an inspiration hub of Zagar's work, the space also houses an art gallery that features similarly colorful work of other artists.
I truthfully could've spent the entire day there and still felt that I had not soaked in enough of the amazingness this place holds. Even more incredible then the space itself is the amount of time and dedication it took to build it. Starting in 1994, Isaiah Zagar spent fourteen years excavating tunnels and grottos, sculpting multi-layered walls, and tiling and grouting the 3,000 square foot space. To give that much of your life to a project that is entirely an expression of you is beyond admirable; even more so when you closely inspect the level of detail involved in every square inch of the Magic Gardens. Both its beauty and what it took to create it are extremely powerful and inspiring.
You can learn more about Isaiah Zagar and Philadelphia's Magic Gardens on the organization's website here. If you're ever in Philadelphia, I highly recommend a visit to this incredible place.