Isaiah Zagar : Creative Minds Art History Project

I love to travel, and was lucky growing up to be part of a family who enjoys a change of scenery every so often as well. An experience that still stands in the forefront of my mind is accidentally happening upon one of the most breathtaking displays of public art I have ever seen while in Philadelphia on one of the last trips my immediate family and I would take together in our little quartet before my brother and I were “officially” grown-up with our own jobs, schedules, and lives.

Mosaic artist Isaiah Zagar has his work across buildings all over Philadelphia and throughout the rest of the country as well, but his Magic Garden is something special, a truly immersive art experience that really does feel like you are being transported into a different universe temporarily as if by magic.

Though he started as a painter, he ended up becoming most known for his public mosaic work. He became an integral part of the “South Street Renaissance” in the 1970s, bringing excitement, inspiration, and beauty to the ignored and abandoned areas of his hometown. The interesting thing is, he only discovered this medium because of others’ willingness to invest and believe in the talents and well-being of those who are struggling. It was while being hospitalized for a breakdown related to undiagnosed bipolar disorder that he was introduced to mosaic making, and he credits this art practice with bringing him out of his depression. Zagar has stated that he was determined to use his breakdown as a springboard into positive mental and spiritual growth, and though mental health is a chronic struggle, he has done just that. At 80 years old, he is still here, filled with an enthusiasm for lifelong learning.

Zagar’s mosaics aren’t just glass and tiles. He utilizes a wide range of materials, much of it upcycled “trash”, and integrates painting and poetry into his designs as well. I had my students make their own mini mosaic on 12×12 tiles using a variety of mixed media materials such as glass pieces, broken jewelry, beads, discarded board game pieces, and more. This is a great way for art programs to use up any odd donations or miscellaneous supplies. I work with students with a wide range of abilities in my Express Yourself Artshop program, and we also have time constraints since we typically spend 1-3 weeks on one project before moving on to the next. To make mosaic art work for our needs, we had students paint the background of their tile whatever color they wanted to show through in between their mosaic pieces, and after they had chosen their pieces and laid out their design we used Weldbond¬†adhesive to attach the parts rather than using grout.

It was interesting to see the messages and themes students were drawn to include in their work, and I was happy to hear that many of them found the process inspiring and therapeutic, same as Zagar did.

If you are interested in learning more about this artist, one of Zagar’s sons created a fantastic documentary about his father’s journey. You do not¬†have to be perfect or feel like you have everything figured out to use your gifts and skills to bring light and life to others. Even through his intense struggles, Zagar has had a profoundly positive impact on his community and continues to do so to this day.

Artists To Know: ArtPrize 2015 Edition

My boyfriend and I visited ArtPrize in Grand Rapids this past Friday. Though I had a piece in it last year, I didn’t have a *big* project ready this year that I wanted to enter so I decided to attend simply as an art appreciator. With inspiration quite literally around every corner, I came back impressed and invigorated, as always. I wanted to share some of the pieces that really stopped me in my tracks. Keep in mind, I was only in Grand Rapids perusing for a day, and as any of you who have attended in the past know, this gave me but a small cross section of ArtPrize 2015. If any of you have been over to ArtPrize, feel free to share other artists/pieces you saw that I may have missed! I definitely left wanting more, but am glad I got to make it to the event this year, even if just for a day. I encourage you to visit these artists’ personal websites I’ve linked to and learn more about their work and the story behind why they create what they do. They explore a variety of poignant themes in a unique and engaging way.

Kristi Lynn Studios – One Hundred Faces

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Ahni Sallaway – I Am You

Kate Askegaard – A Breakthrough

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Little did I know until visiting her website myself, her piece in ArtPrize last year, “A Plea, Remember Me”, was also one of my favorites. Miss Kate has a new fan!

Candace Compton Pappas – 200+

Each bird represents one of the over 200 school girls that remain missing after they were kidnapped from their school in Nigeria by the terrorist group Boka Haram.

Jacqueline Baerwald – Melondy, Issues of Adolescence (You can read her like a book, or can you?)

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Monica Stegeman – In Her Place

John Leben – Back To Nature

Another thing about ArtPrize I always look forward to is the installation art and large scale outdoor sculpture. Red seems to be a popular color, and so by happenstance I matched all the art.

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Dream home?

Dream home?

This yarn room reminded me of one of those nightmares wear something about your surroundings is not quite right, but you can't seem to figure it out...

This yarn room reminded me of one of those nightmares where something about your surroundings is not quite right, but you can’t seem to figure it out…

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I love the contrast between my giggling face and that none too pleased look in the eyes of my fierce dragon companion.

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Eating delicious food is almost (or maybe equally as?) as exciting as looking at amazing art, and my boyfriend and I enjoyed dinner and Violin Monster at The Green Well, as well as vegan gelato from Love's Ice Cream which is so amazing it haunts my dreams.

Eating delicious food is almost (or maybe equally as?) as exciting as looking at amazing art, and my boyfriend and I enjoyed dinner and Violin Monster at The Green Well, as well as vegan gelato from Love’s Ice Cream which is so amazing it haunts my dreams.