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.

Betsy Youngquist – Creative Minds Art History Project

For my final Creative Minds class of this Artshop semester, I chose another current artist as the class inspiration that would also give us the opportunity to work with some summery materials (Based in MI, we are hoping it gets warmer someday!).

 

Betsy Youngquist is a surreal mosaic and sculpture artist who works with a lot of unique materials traditionally associated with crafting like beads and doll making supplies. On her website, she writes, “Children with their vast capacity for wonderment weave tales of gossamer, create magic kingdoms, and pass through invisible portals to lands of untold enchantment. As we follow the Yellow Brick Road in quest of Emerald Cities, those portals become hidden to us, removing our access to the wonderland within. Creating art is a means to return to the looking glass and reenter the garden where flowers whisper and birds can talk. As my beaded characters emerge they carry with them tales from the other side of the mirror. I am grateful for the joy and astonishment experienced through this journey.”

Since we only had one class to finish this project and student attention spans vary, I took inspiration from one of her smaller works, a bedazzled seashell! As mentioned before, this project was also perfect to get everyone in the mindset of warm weather vibes. It may only be a high of 45-50 degrees as of tomorrow but at least we didn’t get the snow that was projected to fall this weekend … Again, Michigan problems :(.

IMG_20190425_151756

Having an array of hobby tweezers with different angled ends is a must for this project to help in placing the beads, though there is no need to use teeny tiny seed beads as you can see from the finished projects! All of my Creative Minds students have a disability of some type, and many struggle with dexterity. The tools I’ve linked above helped them enjoy the process and experience success in creating their surreal, whimsical shells. It was easiest for them to apply a bit of glue inside the shell first, and then use the tweezers to just set the bead into the glue, just in case you want to try this at home! All you need is an array of different sized and shaped beads for creating patterns – glass, plastic, or whatever material is available to you works just fine. Though you could use specialty glues like E6000, we used tacky glue in class which adhered well and dries crystal clear. I also made sure to get some “oddities” as a nod to the surrealist quality of Youngquist’s work in the form of some realistic eye charms, though of course students will add their own creative edge to the inspiration project (Frozen, anyone? 😉 ). They were encouraged to start with a central focal point created either by a larger found object or a grouping of one color, and work radially out from that point.

I am so impressed with the results! They really rose to the challenge and created some gorgeous conversation pieces to display in their home. Beaded mosaics are another project that can be adapted to all ages and abilities, and something that anyone can enjoy even if they don’t feel they are “good at art”. The repetitive process of placing beads becomes calming and meditative as you work. A new semester starts in a week, and I am looking to learning about more artists from the present and past together with a new group!