I first encountered the magnificence while running down Philadelphia’s South Street to the Whole Foods that was closing. It was spring break and I was visiting a friend. And there it was– just one wall at first– facing the sidewalk where tires and glass and broken china and bottles melded into beautifully imperfect cohesion. It was as if someone had poured a thousand vats of Elmer’s glue into a giant pile of discarded junk and spread it out like chunky cookie dough onto the wall. I stopped, looked up, and there was more. That mishmash of stuck together junk and jewels seemed to continue into eternity. And following South Street I saw that giant mosaics peppered walls and storefronts all the way down. Some artist had plastered his life’s masterpiece across every surface.
His name is Isaiah Zagar, and within over 50,000 square feet of mosaics known as Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, he has pasted together the pieces of his life.
The next day I went back. Bathed in sunlight the place glistened like candy. I’m pretty sure if there’s a heaven, this is what it looks like. Crafted from the discarded items of the living into something that itself also lives: an apartment space and garden turned into a breathtaking masterpiece.
A human made this– that was the most absurd part. For me at least. To read words in the walls like “Julia & Isaiah decided to get remarried,” and to imagine Isaiah placing together the words after that life-changing moment. Or to see a plastic toy shoved into a cranny and to picture where he picked it up.
While wondering through one of the inside rooms I meandered up a stairway I suppose wasn’t meant for me. And there he was. All bearded and insane. Mosaicing away with hammers and paint.
“WE’RE ACTUALLY JUST LITTLE ELVES WHO TOOK SOME PILLS TO MAKE US BIGGER!” he shouted before I realized what was happening.
He only talked to me on camera for an instant but was one of the most fantastic humans I’ve ever encountered. A man dedicating his life to changing the landscape by instilling it with beauty. And what a novel idea it is.