2006.07.21: July 21, 2006: Headlines: COS - Peru: Art: Murals: Painting: Urban Renewal: Seattle Times: If Peru RPCV Isaiah Zagar had his way, every surface of his own gritty neighborhood in South Philly would be paved with slivers of mirror, shards of pottery and broken tiles

Peace Corps Online: Directory: Peru: Special Report: Artist and Peru RPCV Isaiah Zagar: 2006.07.21: July 21, 2006: Headlines: COS - Peru: Art: Murals: Painting: Urban Renewal: Seattle Times: If Peru RPCV Isaiah Zagar had his way, every surface of his own gritty neighborhood in South Philly would be paved with slivers of mirror, shards of pottery and broken tiles

By Admin1 (admin) (ppp-70-245-25-154.dsl.okcyok.swbell.net - 70.245.25.154) on Friday, July 21, 2006 - 1:22 pm: Edit Post

If Peru RPCV Isaiah Zagar had his way, every surface of his own gritty neighborhood in South Philly would be paved with slivers of mirror, shards of pottery and broken tiles

If Peru RPCV Isaiah Zagar had his way, every surface of his own gritty neighborhood in South Philly would be paved with slivers of mirror, shards of pottery and broken tiles

For 15 years, Zagar has been plastering South Street and the surrounding neighborhood with Cubist-style mosaics reminiscent of Picasso and creeping installations reminding passers-by of uninhibited roadside Americana. There are now 80 or 90 works and counting. He calls them "folk environments" and "manifestations of myself," and says he's made it his life's work "making the city of Philadelphia, PA, USA into a labyrinthine mosaic museum."

If Peru RPCV Isaiah Zagar had his way, every surface of his own gritty neighborhood in South Philly would be paved with slivers of mirror, shards of pottery and broken tiles

Rebuilding South Philly, piece by piece

By John and Sally Macdonald

Special to The Seattle Times

PHILADELPHIA If Isaiah Zagar had his way, paradise (and every surface of his own gritty neighborhood in South Philly) would be paved with slivers of mirror, shards of pottery and broken tiles.

Stroll almost any street in the neighborhood and you'll come across samples of Zagar's strange and sometimes moving artistic vision: mosaics created with glass and tile plastered onto brick walls or automatic garage doors, and "garden" installations made of found stuff and cement that creep over cyclone fences along city sidewalks.

The neighborhood is undergoing a renewal and many of the young professionals moving in see Zagar's art unconventional as it is as fitting right in.

Zagar shrugs off the changes. He's seen the neighborhood at its worst, when its crumbling buildings were just a different kind of canvas waiting to be "embellished" by a struggling artist trying to find his aesthetic voice.

"The neighborhood has been a matrix for my work, because of its failure in a way," he says. "Each generation has its chance to modify a city to its needs and dreams. It's called gentrification, but really it's people re-thinking and re-dreaming a city."

Philadelphia prides itself on being the seat of American history. In summer, street corners bustle with storytellers and park rangers, eager to take visitors on a founding-fathers tour.
If you go


South Philly mosaics

Where

Philadelphia is no small city. And with so many of its visitors wanting to see the famous historic sites, it's good that much of that part of the city can be seen on foot.

One old Philadelphia neighborhood is along South Street, where many of Isaiah Zagar's mosaics are scattered between Second and 13th streets.

It's worth taking the extra hour to walk from the downtown area through this South Philly community and the nearby famed Italian Market.

Zagar's "Magic Garden" and his studio are at 1022 South St. The garden is open to visitors from noon-4 p.m. every Saturday and Sunday. The space can be rented for special events.

Zagar's two-day weekend workshops are held from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., monthly through November, at the studio. For a 2006 schedule, visit www.phillymagicgardens.org.

Information

For general information about visiting Philadelphia, visit www.gophila.com/neighborhoodtours or phone 215-389-TOUR .

The city claims more impressionist art and more Rodin sculptures than any other outside Paris. And, thanks to a program that fosters painting historic scenes on blank walls of old buildings before graffiti artists get to them, the city has 2,400 historic murals to entertain locals and wow tourists.

Then there's Zagar.

You won't find him in the tourist brochures, but his claim to Americana may be as authentic as that of the sidewalk historians. Like the officially sanctioned murals, his slightly renegade mosaic art is free and available to anyone who wanders by.

And his eccentric, ubiquitous art and pithy philosophy have made him something of a luminary.

Zagar, a rumpled man with frazzled gray-white hair and a gentle demeanor, is not without a portfolio he has a fine-arts degree from the prestigious Pratt Institute in New York.

For 15 years, Zagar has been plastering South Street and the surrounding neighborhood with Cubist-style mosaics reminiscent of Picasso and creeping installations reminding passers-by of uninhibited roadside Americana.

There are now 80 or 90 works and counting.

He calls them "folk environments" and "manifestations of myself," and says he's made it his life's work "making the city of Philadelphia, PA, USA into a labyrinthine mosaic museum."

Reviews from the neighbors have been mixed.

One says Zagar's works have become "beloved icons of South Philadelphia" and "the ultimate in accessible public art." Another, who recently tried to get a garden piece bulldozed, calls it "garbage."

Zagar and his wife Julia live in the leafy, sun-dappled neighborhood where he goes about his art and workshops for budding muralists while she runs a shop, selling folk art from South America. Most of the three-story red-brick row houses were built in the early 1800s to serve a relatively well-off African-American community.

The neighborhood has experienced regular periods of decline followed by rejuvenation. When the Zagars arrived in 1968 after stints in Bolivia and Peru with the Peace Corps, the community and Zagar both were flagging. He suffered a nervous breakdown brought on, he says, by trying to readjust to American life in a time of social turmoil.

"I remember when Martin Luther King was killed," he says. "I couldn't breathe. I felt the air was being let out of the entire world."

There's been an upswing recently, in terms of both the neighborhood and Zagar's place in it. Downtown is within walking distance, and its glassy skyscrapers can be seen occasionally through the trees. A newly built Whole Foods Market takes up one block of South Street, speaking to the community's revival.

Zagar's work reflects his artistic vision, literally and figuratively. One wall beside an old church features a running stream of tiles telling the story of Jesus in Bible verses. The front of one row house, entirely covered in pastel tiles and mirrors, bounces images of the neighborhood back at the viewer and throws rainbows onto the sidewalk.

The Magic Garden, which Zagar calls his "opus," fronts a loft space where he has his workshop. It is an eruption of found stuff broken pottery, colored bottles, bent bicycle wheels, tin Christmas ornaments, a wooden folk-art angel and more mirrors made into a maze of free-standing walls and tunnels.

The garden is an ongoing project. Some of the cement along one pathway was still wet one recent weekend when a gaggle of art students arrived to don grout-stained aprons for a Zagar seminar.

It's cool in the early morning, and Zagar wears a Bolivian-style knit cap-of-many-colors, a clashing tie-dye T-shirt and high-water sweat pants over tan twills.

"This is messy work," he muses to no one in particular as he shows the students how to cut mirrors into 1-by-2-inch rectangles. "Remember, you're working with lethal materials here, and I don't want you to get cut."

Most of the 21 students are from Philadelphia or nearby communities. They paid $150 for a two-day workshop, gluing on tiles and smearing tinted grout in the crevices of Zagar's latest commissioned work under his direction.

A few neighbors stop by on their way to the nearby Italian Market to say hello, and a tour bus stops at the corner to let visitors watch the artist in action. He hugs the neighbors and waves at the tourists and urges children passing by to join the paying crowd in putting up a tile or two.

Not every neighbor greets another Zagar mural with enthusiasm.

The owner of the property Zagar has covered with the Magic Garden recently accused the artist of working on the land illegally and gave him a deadline for coming up with $300,000 to buy the property or have his work bulldozed.

The owner was quoted in the Philadelphia Arts Writer, an online culture publication, as saying Zagar's work was "garbage" and the artist "like a guest whom you let come to dinner. And then he never wants to leave."

Zagar says he cleaned up the lot and was allowed to use the land for 10 years without cost. With the help of Philadelphia Lawyers for the Arts, a volunteer organization of attorneys who work pro bono for the arts, he got an injunction to protect the work and is trying to raise $200,000 by November to buy the property. An anonymous angel has promised the other $100,000.

Zagar has raised about $90,000 toward saving the Magic Garden, including $2,000 the Diadones paid for their wall.

Tuition for the seminars goes to buy materials all of which stay, of course, in the neighborhood.

"You won't take anything home from your effort with me but knowledge," Zagar tells his students. "The skill of cutting a mirror takes about a minute to learn. The skill of putting on a tile may take 20 minutes of great anxiety. But the skill I'm trying to impart is the skill of courage, the courage to make mistakes. And art."

"That's OK. I came for the class and the artist," says Roz Lombardo, who came from Morristown, N.J., to the weekend seminar with her daughter, Gia. They gave each other this experience to celebrate their spring birthdays and to get a close-up look at Zagar and his quirky art.

"I've done a few little things, putting tile on patio- table tops, that sort of thing," Lombardo says. "I wanted to see how to do this on a grand scale.

"Now I can't wait to get home and start on our basement."

Sally Macdonald is a retired Seattle Times reporter; John Macdonald retired as the Times' travel editor.

Copyright © 2006 The Seattle Times Company





When this story was posted in July 2006, this was on the front page of PCOL:


Contact PCOLBulletin BoardRegisterSearch PCOLWhat's New?

Peace Corps Online The Independent News Forum serving Returned Peace Corps Volunteers
Jody Olsen is acting Peace Corps Director Date: June 30 2006 No: 920 Jody Olsen is acting Peace Corps Director
The Senate confirmed Gaddi Vasquez to head the FAO on June 30. Jody Olsen will be acting Director until the President makes a permanent appointment. Olsen has been Deputy Director of the Peace Corps since 2002. She has previously served as Chief of Staff for two directors, as regional director for North Africa, Near East, and Asia and the Pacific, and as country director in Togo. She served in Tunisia as a PCV.

Top Stories and Breaking News PCOL Magazine Peace Corps Library RPCV Directory Sign Up

The Peace Corps Library Date: February 24 2006 No: 798 The Peace Corps Library
The Peace Corps Library is now available online with over 40,000 index entries in 500 categories. Looking for a Returned Volunteer? Check our RPCV Directory. New: Sign up to receive PCOL Magazine, our free Monthly Magazine by email. Like to keep up with Peace Corps news as it happens? Sign up to recieve a daily summary of Peace Corps stories from around the world.

Changing the Face of Hunger Date: June 28 2006 No: 915 Changing the Face of Hunger
In his new book, Former Congressman Tony Hall (RPCV Thailand) says humanitarian aid is the most potent weapon the United States can deploy against terrorism. An evangelical Christian, he is a big believer in faith-based organizations in the fight against hunger. Members of Congress have recently recommended that Hall be appointed special envoy to Sudan to focus on ending the genocide in Darfur.

PC will not return to East Timor in 2006 Date: June 8 2006 No: 913 PC will not return to East Timor in 2006
Volunteers serving in East Timor have safely left the country as a result of the recent civil unrest and government instability. Latest: The Peace Corps has informed us that at this time, the Peace Corps has no plans to re-enter the country in 2006. The Peace Corps recently sent a letter offering eligible volunteers the opportunity to reinstate their service in another country.

Chris Dodd considers run for the White House Date: June 3 2006 No: 903 Chris Dodd considers run for the White House
Senator Chris Dodd plans to spend the next six to eight months raising money and reaching out to Democrats around the country to gauge his viability as a candidate. Just how far Dodd can go depends largely on his ability to reach Democrats looking for an alternative to Hillary Clinton. PCOL Comment: Dodd served as a Volunteer in the Dominican Republic and has been one of the strongest supporters of the Peace Corps in Congress.

The RPCV who wrote about Ben Hogan Date: June 6 2006 No: 912 The RPCV who wrote about Ben Hogan
Probably no RPCV has done more to further the Third Goal of the Peace Corps than John Coyne with the Peace Corps Writers web site and newsletter that he and Marian Haley Beil have produced since 1989. Now John returns to writing about his first love - golf in "The Caddie who knew Ben Hogan." Read an excerpt from his novel, an interview with the author and a schedule of his book readings in Maryland and DC this week.

Vasquez testifies before Senate Committee Date: June 3 2006 No: 905 Vasquez testifies before Senate Committee
Director Vasquez testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on his nomination as the new Representative to the United Nations Agencies for Food and Agriculture replacing Tony Hall. He has been the third longest serving Peace Corps Director after Loret Ruppe Miller and Sargent Shriver. PCOL Comment: Read our thanks to Director Vasquez for his service to the Peace Corps.

First Amendment Watch Date: May 4 2006 No: 883 First Amendment Watch
Maine Web Report hit with Federal Lawsuit
Website wins trademark suit against Jerry Falwell

Interview with a Hit Man Date: April 25 2006 No: 880 Interview with a Hit Man
RPCV John Perkins says that for many years he was an "economic hit man" in the world of international finance whose primary job was to convince less developed countries to accept multibillion dollar loans for infrastructure projects that left the recipient countries wallowing in debt and highly vulnerable to outside political and commercial interests. In this exclusive interview for "Peace Corps Online," Colombia RPCV Joanne Roll, author of Remember with Honor, talks to Perkins about his Peace Corps service, his relation with the NSA, "colonization" in Ecuador, the consequences of his work, why he decided to speak out, and what his hopes are for change.

PC Program in Chad temporarily suspended Date: April 14 2006 No: 872 PC Program in Chad temporarily suspended
Director Vasquez announced the temporary suspension of the Peace Corps program in Chad on April 14 and that all 29 Peace Corps volunteers have left the country. With a program dating back forty years (See Page 4 of the April 1966 "Peace Corps Volunteer"), RPCVs hope that volunteers can return to Chad as soon as the situation has stabilized. Congratulations to the Peace Corps for handling the suspension quickly and professionally.

Peace Corps stonewalls on FOIA request Date: April 12 2006 No: 869 Peace Corps stonewalls on FOIA request
The Ashland Daily Tidings reports that Peace Corps has blocked their request for information on the Volkart case. "After the Tidings requested information pertaining to why Volkart was denied the position on March 2 the newspaper received a letter from the Peace Corps FOIA officer stating the requested information was protected under an exemption of the act." The Dayton Daily News had similar problems with FOIA requests for their award winning series on Volunteer Safety and Security.

PCOL readership increases 100% Date: April 3 2006 No: 853 PCOL readership increases 100%
Monthly readership on "Peace Corps Online" has increased in the past twelve months to 350,000 visitors - over eleven thousand every day - a 100% increase since this time last year. Thanks again, RPCVs and Friends of the Peace Corps, for making PCOL your source of information for the Peace Corps community. And thanks for supporting the Peace Corps Library and History of the Peace Corps. Stay tuned, the best is yet to come.

History of the Peace Corps Date: March 18 2006 No: 834 History of the Peace Corps
PCOL is proud to announce that Phase One of the "History of the Peace Corps" is now available online. This installment includes over 5,000 pages of primary source documents from the archives of the Peace Corps including every issue of "Peace Corps News," "Peace Corps Times," "Peace Corps Volunteer," "Action Update," and every annual report of the Peace Corps to Congress since 1961. "Ask Not" is an ongoing project. Read how you can help.

RPCV admits to abuse while in Peace Corps Date: February 3 2006 No: 780 RPCV admits to abuse while in Peace Corps
Timothy Ronald Obert has pleaded guilty to sexually abusing a minor in Costa Rica while serving there as a Peace Corps volunteer. "The Peace Corps has a zero tolerance policy for misconduct that violates the law or standards of conduct established by the Peace Corps," said Peace Corps Director Gaddi H. Vasquez. Could inadequate screening have been partly to blame? Mr. Obert's resume, which he had submitted to the Peace Corps in support of his application to become a Peace Corps Volunteer, showed that he had repeatedly sought and obtained positions working with underprivileged children. Read what RPCVs have to say about this case.

Military Option sparks concerns Date: January 3 2006 No: 773 Military Option sparks concerns
The U.S. military, struggling to fill its voluntary ranks, is allowing recruits to meet part of their reserve military obligations after active duty by serving in the Peace Corps. Read why there is opposition to the program among RPCVs. Director Vasquez says the agency has a long history of accepting qualified applicants who are in inactive military status. John Coyne says "Not only no, but hell no!" and RPCV Chris Matthews leads the debate on "Hardball." Avi Spiegel says Peace Corps is not the place for soldiers while Coleman McCarthy says to Welcome Soldiers to the Peace Corps. Read our poll results. Latest: Congress passed a bill on December 22 including language to remove Peace Corps from the National Call to Service (NCS) military recruitment program

Why blurring the lines puts PCVs in danger Date: October 22 2005 No: 738 Why blurring the lines puts PCVs in danger
When the National Call to Service legislation was amended to include Peace Corps in December of 2002, this country had not yet invaded Iraq and was not in prolonged military engagement in the Middle East, as it is now. Read the story of how one volunteer spent three years in captivity from 1976 to 1980 as the hostage of a insurrection group in Colombia in Joanne Marie Roll's op-ed on why this legislation may put soldier/PCVs in the same kind of danger. Latest: Read the ongoing dialog on the subject.


Read the stories and leave your comments.






Some postings on Peace Corps Online are provided to the individual members of this group without permission of the copyright owner for the non-profit purposes of criticism, comment, education, scholarship, and research under the "Fair Use" provisions of U.S. Government copyright laws and they may not be distributed further without permission of the copyright owner. Peace Corps Online does not vouch for the accuracy of the content of the postings, which is the sole responsibility of the copyright holder.

Story Source: Seattle Times

This story has been posted in the following forums: : Headlines; COS - Peru; Art; Murals; Painting; Urban Renewal

PCOL33714
51


Add a Message


This is a public posting area. Enter your username and password if you have an account. Otherwise, enter your full name as your username and leave the password blank. Your e-mail address is optional.
Username:  
Password:
E-mail: