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.

Retro Tile Bathrooms Before and After

Even though I studied interior design in college and ended up going in a different direction afterward, I still love it. From time to time, I do still assist friends/family/acquaintances with their designing woes, and I’ve had a couple of fun opportunities over the last year or two to work with my parents in updating my childhood home. I worked with them to choose fixtures, finishes, and furnishings for the home’s guest and master bath, and they used a kitchen and bath design business and a remodeling contractor from the local Midland area to bring the project to completion.

My parents and I have pretty different design styles. They can be a little uneasy at times about bold colors, and favor timelessness. My mother definitely has a traditional style, and is not one of those people who wants to change a design up every other year (or even every 5). She especially wants more “permanent” aspects such as tile and cabinetry to be something neutral so that the space can be updated in the future if need be with not much more than a different color of paint on the walls.

The house’s original bathrooms were done up in (now vintage) tile, as were many in the neighborhood when originally built. My best friend down the street actually had an identical guest bathroom to ours, only accented in white instead of grey and sans crazy wallpaper. We decided to pay homage to the origins and stay with the idea of retro, bold, fun tile, but this time in black and white.

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Before: I may have mentioned the original guest bathroom was pink. In fact, this bathroom was just so into being pink that even the door and the window molding is pink. This is basically Dolores Umbridge‘s dream bathroom. It’s so odd and distinctly vintage, however, that it did have a certain charm and I was a little bummed to see it go. Yes, the ceiling is wallpapered – pretty trippy.

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After: Saying bye-bye to the original vintage was so worth it, however, for the end result. Since we didn’t have to worry about the guest bathroom transitioning into a bedroom like we did for the master bath, we could go with a fun color not present anywhere else in the house, and chose a cheerful pool blue. Being the only color present that isn’t a neutral, the room is pleasant even for those who don’t like to be surrounded by rainbows 24/7. The white is broken up by pops of black in the striping and the textile accents. The ceiling is still kind of fun, though certainly not wallpapered! I chose a paler shade of blue rather than just going with a stark white to balance the already ever present, high contrast, bold blue- to – bright white transitions. My parents also love antiques, and there is a variety of vintage glassware and decor scattered throughout. We also chose some unique vintage inspired hardware that further adds to the little air of whimsy in this room. The artwork on the wall is a print of one of my watercolor and ink pieces, The Idealist.

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Before: The master bath had already been through one soft redo in the 90s due to some cabinetry that was not faring too well. It had mainly been done for utilitarian reasons, and had pretty much the opposite problem of the guest bathroom … it was very, very bland.

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After: Hello, gold! Black and gold play off of each other so well, so a lot more black was incorporated into this bathroom. The cabinetry and shower are opposite each other, so to balance all the white tile with the dark counters we outlined the shower itself and the inset shelf in black tile, and used a more concentrated floor tile. The photography on the walls are photos of birds my dad took, one of his hobbies being hiking and “collecting” birds on his journeys via snapshots. And, of course, more vintage glassware (I have an addiction! Luckily, they love it too).

Another fun project completed! Next, my parents will be picking my brain about the living room. Maybe I can talk them into more brightly colored walls … maybe even purple! Only time will tell ;). (Mom, if you are reading this, I promise I’m joking).