Tucked into a downtown Philadelphia neighborhood, behind a wall and gate of colorful tile mosaic, between two mosaic-covered buildings, lies a tiny world that defies description. It’s a folk art installation of epic proportions. It’s an artful maze, full of art, and art unto itself. It’s a melange of tile and toys and words and images. It is, in a word, a wonder.
Welcome to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens!
The Magic Gardens are primarily the creation of Isaiah Zagar, a mosaic artist from New York who was inspired by Peruvian folk art during his time in the Peace Corps.
The place started as a small museum and art shop called the Eyes Gallery, shortly after Isaiah and his wife, Julia, arrived in Philadelphia in 1968. They acquired surrounding property over the next few decades, and in 2002 began work on the Magic Gardens in earnest, constantly adding to it. It opened to the public in 2008 as a non-profit art museum.
The place is a maze of pathways, portals, stairs, and open courtyards–most is open-air, so weather can be a factor, though there is also an indoor art gallery with permanent and temporary exhibits.
The mosaics are primarily ceramic tiles, but also include other items like bottles, dolls and figurines, bicycle parts, sculptures, and painted elements. The mosaics include poetry, portraits, names of other artists, and folk art galore. It can all feel chaotic, but in a good way!
If you find yourself in the Philadelphia area on a nice day and want to explore something pretty far out of the ordinary, I would definitely recommend a stop at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. It is an amazing, rewarding place.
Directions: Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is located at 1020 South Street, between 10th and 11th Streets. Metered and two-hour parking in the immediate vicinity is available along South and Bainbridge Streets, and along numbered streets. Free untimed parking is available on streets farther south. Several parking garages are located nearby, with the closest at 11th and South Streets. As of this writing, the Magic Gardens are open 11am-6pm, closed on Tuesdays and major holidays. Check their website for more info on hours and tickets!