From Trash to Treasure – Can you see the magic in Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens?

I have been trying to make a total encyclopedic vision that has no parameters and no end. My work is marked by events and is a mirror of the mind that is building and falling apart, having a logic but close to chaos, refusing to stay still for the camera, and giving one a sense of heaven and hell simultaneously.

It is an impossible place, but you can visit and smile and know that it exists somewhere. Now you know that place is in Philadelphia, and you knew it all along, didn’t you?

– Isaiah Zagar

gardens artist


Try to think back on all of the things that you have carelessly tossed over your shoulder into the trashcan just today or even in the past week. Maybe you can remember throwing out a button that popped off your sweater, a broken mirror that smashed during your move back to campus after break, a shoelace that seemed to have lost its pair, or maybe even an empty bottle of wine or beer… not that any of you would be in possession of any bottles besides water bottles am I right? 🙂 I’m sure there are hundreds of other things that got the boot of rejection into the deep dark depths of the bottom of the trashcan without a single thought. Americans each and every day mindlessly throw away enough garbage to fill up 63,000 garbage trucks, which, if lined up for a year, would stretch halfway to the moon!! It’s nothing important it’s just trash. Right?

Well, to Isiah Zagar, mosaic artist, visionary, but most importantly dumpster diver, trash is the sole provider for his passion as well as career as a mosaic artist. In 1994, Zagar, after years of frustration that his work did not get selected to be shown in any museums, decided to instead create art in public places throughout Philadelphia in order for the entirety of the public to be inspired. In a vacant lot in the middle of South Street is where the magic began. After building walls, tunnels, stairs, and small caves throughout the 3,000 square foot space, this inspired mosaic mural artist took to the streets within the community in the search of little treasures, beautiful aspects of art, colorful pieces of glistening glass, or what some of us might call trash.

After about fourteen years of finding the potential in each and every scrap, Isaiah Zagar finished piecing together the vibrant, thought-provoking mosaic creation that is now named Philadelphia’s Magic Garden.

philly magic gardens       gardens

Over this past winter break, when I told my friends I hadn’t ever been, they were shocked so we hopped on the trolley and were there the next day.  I quickly learned that the mural exhibition was made from trash—entirely unwanted rubbish. Being an artist myself, I never would have imagined even attempting to make an art piece out of something as unattractive as things found in a smelly dumpster.

How can a garden be filled with trash? That doesn’t exactly sound like something that would be beautiful… but boy was I ever wrong. As I swung open the doors to the outdoor wonderland I had no idea what to expect. I had a connotation with trash that consisted of smelly piles of food scraps and dirty diapers; that is what my eyes saw and my mind thought when they looked at a pile of trash. Yet when I walked through that door and into the extravagant twinkling display that was so called “trash”, I did not see trash as I had once seen it before. As I ran my hand over the pieces of torn up dolls, recycled bicycle tires, and bits of colorful broken glass, I was not running my hand over undesirable junk as one perspective might see it; I was running my hands over the intricate components that pieced together this massive masterpiece.

philadelphia magic garden

My eyes were opened to the possibilities of beauty within unexpected forms of art.

Filled with different snippets of poetry, meaningful quotes, references to current events, and worldly cultural experiences, this magical world was overwhelmingly beautiful and deeply meaningful. It had heart. It had soul. It was art. It was trash. Yet, it is all about perspective. When I walked into Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens I instantly saw trash with fresh eyes. Each and every piece of broken teacup and cracked record were all key contributors to the vibrant colors and characters encompassed within the Magic Gardens. In order to feel the true magic that is possible at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens all you have to do is open your mind to the beauty of art within the unexpected.




Here we are!

Artists all over are crazy about this new medium of creating beautiful pieces of artwork from ordinary trash. Check it out!

3 thoughts on “From Trash to Treasure – Can you see the magic in Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens?

  1. I love your style of writing! It’s inspirational and moving, and I easily got lost in the words! Also, I love the concept of your blog, focusing on perspective. I never would’ve imagined trash looking so beautiful either, but there it is, proving us wrong. There are many discussions that could take place based on this post, for example, one can find beauty in anything. All in all, I’m looking forward to your upcoming blogs and readings about things in a new light! It’s always great to be surprised in this world.

  2. Like you a few weeks ago, I have never been to the Magic Garden despite living only an hour from the city. But based on what you have to say about them, I am definitely going to find time to go check them out! It is was truly amazing to see how trash would come together so beautifully and create an emotional response in people- I mean seriously, we’re talking about garbage here! I completely admire and respect the author’s vision and perspective because I know I would not have the creative abilities to pick out trash that could double as artwork.

  3. I’ve only visited Philadelphia twice in my life, so this place is definitely on my bucket list the next time I go there. Throwing away garbage becomes somewhat of a second-nature over time- something that feels innately clean can actually be environmentally destructive. When I think of art, I think of creation, but Isaiah Zagar interpreted art from a less literal standpoint. He made something from something preexisting, and what most people would render useless. His display clearly highlights common misconceptions regarding trash and other deposed-of materials- I would love to see other people in the art community take advantage of recycled mediums as well.

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