Isaiah Zagar

Age: 77
Find him: @isaiahzagar, @phillymagicgardens
Hometown: Philadelphia
Words of wisdom: Communication is all we’ve got. Eye contact, touch, what we do on a daily basis with the gifts we’re given.
Go-to artists: Clarence Schmidt was a guy who didn’t know he was an artist. He just made things and he made them bigger and bigger and bigger. I was 19 years old when I saw how big “Miracle on the Mountain” was and it blew me out of the water. There was no water there, but it blew me out of the water that wasn’t there. I mean, dig that.
Art of Tröegs piece: I was inspired by the story on the labels and ended up putting the beer caps in cement. I love cement.
I’d like to grab a beer with … as long as the beer has a little cement in it, I don’t care. Gotta have a little bit of cement in everything.

Magic Gardens is tough to explain. Spanning half a city block, it’s part trash, part treasure. Unmissable, but under the radar. It’s the most eccentric pocket of Philadelphia’s famously eccentric South Street.

Magic Gardens is like no place on Earth. And when you walk through and under and on top of this bejeweled wonder and its countless broken plates and mirrors, beer bottles and bicycle wheels, witticisms, nudes, scrap metal and cement, you can only wonder … where on Earth did this come from?

It came from Brooklyn, where a little boy named Isaiah was born in 1939.

It came from that little boy’s kitchen, where all around him flew his mother’s pots and pans and plates and mugs.

It came from the Pratt Institute, where that boy came of age, studied art and soon after met a woman named Julia, his muse for half a century.

It came from Peru, where Isaiah and Julia spent three years working for the Peace Corps and falling in love with the color and creativity of Incan folk art.

It came from lower South Street, their run-down home after Peru, and Isaiah’s drive to beautify it.

It came from the museums of Philadelphia, who shut their doors on Isaiah and forced him to put his art up in the streets.

That was more than 20 years ago now, and Isaiah’s never stopped.

Magic Gardens is his life’s work, but it’s something even he doesn’t fully understand.

“I don’t know who’s got that grand vision, but it’s not me. I’m just a plodder who goes from one spot to the next to the next. I had no idea I was building this amazing thing. I’m as awed as anybody else.”

For this year’s Art of Tröegs Contest, the 77-year-old Isaiah brought some of his 20-something energy to a mosaic inspired by our labels.

“I read the labels, and they were fantastic. These two brothers — the Trogner brothers — they did it together. They must have just said one day, ‘Let’s make beer.’ And they did! And that’s the key in art, too. Just take courage and go for it.”

Art of Tröegs

It’s your turn to get in on the art. Take a piece of Tröegs – bottlecaps, cans, labels, whatever – and create a piece of art. The winner will be $500 richer, and they’ll get their name in lights when we open our brand new art gallery this summer in Hershey, PA. MORE