Isaiah Zagar in Philadelphia by Sam Wood for Smash Transit

Isaiah Zagar’s Mosaics in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is undoubtedly a very artistic city, with its very own world-class art museum, tons of street art, and independent artists living and working in the city. But, perhaps none are as unique and omnipresent throughout the city as local artist, Isaiah Zagar.

Originally from New York, Zagar studied in Brooklyn before spending three years in Peru with the Peace Corps, which greatly influenced his work. When he moved to South Philadelphia, he started by posting mosaics in public spaces for fun, usually not asking for money in return for his creations.

Isaiah Zagar in Philadelphia by Sam Wood for Smash Transit

His most ambitious work, now known as Philadelphia’s Magic Garden, consists of a labyrinth of three-dimensional mosaics in an outdoor space. He started creating it in 1994, when he began by clearing the lots next to a property he had bought, building his work in it. Almost 20 years later, when the owner of the lot told him he had to buy it or see his work destroyed, Zagar managed to raise the money within the community and created the non-profit organisation that stands there now.

Isaiah Zagar in Philadelphia by Sam Wood for Smash Transit

Today, there are over 200 murals throughout Philadelphia by the artist, spread between private property, business facades, and seemingly un-owned spaces. While you have to pay to enter Philadelphia’s Magic Garden, they also provide a free map showing the locations of all his other works around the city, and you can easily make your own walking tour in around an hour to see the majority of them.

Isaiah Zagar in Philadelphia by Sam Wood for Smash Transit

One of the most interesting things about Zagar and how he works is the way in which he engages the local community. Often, he does not charge for his works, rather gifting them to fellow residents or business owners, and he also offers workshops over the warmer months of the year, when he invites anyone interested to help him on whichever mural he’s working on at the time.

Much of the inspiration for his work comes from the time he spent in Peru in the 1960s, which is evident from the many animal forms present in his murals. There are lots of other images and words present in his work beside animals, though, and these often seem to have little to do with the work itself. Thought, they are usually extracts from poems, songs, or quotes from other artists who have inspired Zagar, and they are not limited to the visual kind.

Isaiah Zagar in Philadelphia by Sam Wood for Smash Transit

There are many other things to love about Philadelphia, but Zagar’s works are definitely one of the most distinctive. As well as a visit to the world-famous (not to mention extremely diverse) Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Rodin Museum (the largest collection of the French artist’s works outside of Paris), the works of Isaiah Zagar are definitely something not to miss in the City of Brotherly Love.

Isaiah Zagar in Philadelphia by Sam Wood for Smash Transit

Have you ever been to Philadelphia or seen any of Zagar’s work? If so, do you have any suggestions or tips for people? If not, what do you think? Let us know your thoughts in the comments!

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Sam Wood

Sam is originally from London, living nomadically since 2010 teaching English as a foreign language, and is now based in Berlin. He's a wannabe minimalist and language geek, working and often traveling with his husband, Zab. On his blog, Indefinite Adventure, he chronicles their journey as two city boys looking for the best vegan food, street art, and most interesting things to do in any given destination.
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