“We can be heroes, just for one day.” – David Bowie
Take a stroll between South and Catherine Streets in Philadelphia, the pocket between 8th and 12th Streets, and you might think you are in a mosaic mural art gallery. At nearly every turn you will find buildings, businesses, even garages, decorated with mosaic art. South Street is the primary corridor for the mosaics, though Fitzwater and Catherine Streets are just as artistic. Tiny obscure side streets like Alder, Sartain, Jessup, and Kater are full of the artwork as well. There are even nameless alleyways narrow enough to extend your arms and palm the mosaics on either side.
And don’t expect to find traditional mosaics. Beside the expected tile, these mosaics incorporate mirrors, colorful glass bottles of every shape and size, ceramic coffee mugs, plates, silverware, bicycle tire rims, broken cookery, and a myriad of other items typically found at flea markets, antique shops or junkyards. And some of the designs defy description.
There are mosaics of floating humans and suspended toilets, faces, or just a face, perhaps even an eye or mouth; birds, fishes, flowers, scriptural verse, clowns, nudes, poetry. At first glance the art might seem the work of a madman, but closer attention to detail reveals their creativity. Examine a face, for instance, and you might find another face buried within, or the bottom of a wine bottle, a teacup, a plate. It would be hard to find another place on earth with an array of mosaics that encompass an entire city neighborhood—more than 200 public walls throughout the city—and they are merely the ones accounted for.
Photos from mosaic pocket (between South and Catherine Streets, from 8th to 12th Streets) Philadelphia, PA
The epicenter of Philadelphia mosaic mural art is the Magic Garden on South Street between 10th and 11th Streets. The Magic Garden is the creation of award winning mosaic mural artist, Isaiah Zagar, who began revitalizing buildings and creating his mosaics in his neighborhood in the 1960s. Mosaics cover every square inch of the Magic Garden—from cellar to roof; its alcoves, patios, stairways, tunnels, grottos, even the restrooms. Mosaic and mirrored walls in the courtyard reach three stories high, and colorful tiled steps descend to the cellar. Inside you will find dazzling spiral mirrors, rainbow mannequins with four arms and multicolored gentiles, otherworldly reptiles, intricately designed archways, leaded glass, mesmerizing stairways, tributes to international mosaic artists, and verse such as, “Sources of Inspiration” and “Lucid Dreaming,” not to mention a restroom completely decked out in mosaic.
Photos from the Magic Garden 1020 South Street, Philadelphia, PA