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Rock, Paper, and Isaiah Zagar at Philadelphia's Magic Gardens


Philadelphia's Magic Gardens Photo by Porsche SlocumYou’ve seen his mosaic murals throughout the city and you may have glanced over his impressive 300-word biography in a brochure, but what’s the story behind the mosaic man? 

What a thrill it would be to talk to Isaiah Zagar over tea and croissants about his volunteering in Peru during the 60s and to hear from the horse's mouth the first time he discovered his love for mosaic art upon his return to Philly. Time conflicts may make it difficult to get one-on-one time with our friend Isaiah, but don’t worry that little inquisitive, art-loving mind of yours.

“Fifty Years of Printmaking: Works on Paper” by Isaiah Zagar” at South Street’s Philadelphia's Magic Gardens is the limitless, unrestrained exhibit in which Zagar offers profound insight into his life. It’s with photo etching, stamped lithograph and indecent self portraits that we see “Isaiah: the Storyteller” and “Isaiah: the Story.”

Both sides of the artist are equally transfixing and correspondingly intricate. It’s the number of drawn lines that seem to exceed infinity and the incalculable words neatly written across his artwork that the time spent creating and the time spent observing is painfully unbalanced. Through 150 detailed etchings that must have taken 1000 years to make (the art of etching involves engraving words backwards onto a metal plate), Zagar takes us on a tour through his life’s journey as he grows from unproven painter to realized mural artist.

In the midst of 3-armed creatures and figures with conjoining heads are stories about his first trip to the city’s art museum in ’62 that nearly ended in an arrest and how the killings of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert F. Kennedy in ’68 set fire to a nervous breakdown. “I couldn’t breathe—I couldn’t cope with what was going on around me. The country snapped. Then I snapped, too.”

Philadelphia's Magic Gardens Photo by Porsche SlocumIn this exhibition, Zagar lets us find what we want to find in art itself. Telling pieces like “Nervous Breakdown” and “In The Dream” make for a few introspective moments but his unseemly humor consistently breaks through.

“Fifty Years of Printmaking” is art within art. The walls and ceilings hold multihued embellishments and the winding, ornate outside garden sparkles even after the sun is long gone and inches of snow sit at your feet.

Isaiah Zagar presents two sides of himself for this exhibit but he is a multifaceted man who has some fascinating years behind him. If the walls could talk, and to some extent they do, they’d say, “He truly lives a painted life,” but let him tell you himself.

Tip: Ask for a magnifying glass at the front desk so you can really read between the lines. 


Fifty Years of Printmaking: Works on Paper by Isaiah Zagar

1020 South Street, Philadelphia, PA 19147

Friday, January 15, 2010 through Friday, March 5, 2010


Sunday - Thursday: 11:00 am - 5:00 pm

Friday and Saturday: 11:00 am - 8:00 pm



Self-guided tour

Adults $4

Youth 6-12 years $2

Kids 5 and under FREE


Guided Site Tour

Adults $7

Youth $5


Guided Walking Tour

Adults $6

Youth $4

http://www.phillymagicgardens.org – (215) 733-0390