Artistic Sustainable Philadelphia

Feb 2015
I am always looking for destinations within  a few hours travel for my oh so important girlfriend getaways, so when I was able to partner  with the city of Philly for a  visit, I jumped at the chance to visit a part of sustainable Philadelphia.

Photo via B. Krist for GPTMC

Four hours by train on Amtrack is an easy ride, with lots of prep time on board.  The train is clean and comfortable, and with free wifi along the way, makes much more sense to me that driving the distance.  The ride reminded me about how much I do love train travel and seeing the sites along the way.

Arriving in the 30th Street Station I recalled the familar feel that grand old stations built in the 1920’s have.  It’s impressive, solid and majestic, giving thought to a time when train travel was the main mode of transportation, and days moved more slowly. Looking up has become a familar phrase when I arrive soemplace new, and this was no exception for my three days; my eyes spent a lot of time pointed skyward.

After checking into the eco-friendly Hotel Palomar, {more on this gem to follow}we had a quick bite at adjoining Square1682 restaurant.  Lucky for us it was restaurant week and the prix fixe menu was an unexpected treat. Combining locally sourced ingredients with world flavors it was a big hit.   Roasted tomato soup, chicken and green bean salad and a desert to die got us ready to hit the ground running.

We pointed our walking shoes in the direction of the Barnes Foundation and got moving.  I’ve wanted to see this collection of art, both fine and decorative, since seeing the documentary, The Art of the Steal.  In a nutshell, the subject is the comprehensive 25 million dollar art collection of Dr. Barnes and the Foundation’s struggle for control with the city of Philadelphia. It’s hard to imagine how one couple could amass such a comprehensive representation of modern and post impressionist art. As much controversy as there was about moving the museum, I can’t give them anything but high marks for the arts new home.  The architects designed a ‘gallery within a garden and a garden within a gallery’.  They have somehow managed to replicate the original space of Dr. Barnes and his wife Laura, and combined it with a modern structure that perfectly coexist together. Blending art, education and nature, it sits seamlessly into the culturally loaded Benjamin Franklin parkway area.  The many eco-features of the building, include a green roof, flooring reclaimed from Coney Island and a complicated lighting system that take the most advantage of natural daylight for the artwork.  Receiving the LEED Platinum status makes it the greenest art and education facility in the country.

Its easy to see why the Benjamin Franklin Parkway was named one of the 10 Great Streets in the U.S.  Renowned museums line the boulevard and much green space anchors it.  The influence of Paris’ Champs Elysees is evident, and the Swan Fountain sits proudly in Logan Square.  It was an active location, with visitors meeting friends, children playing and travelers like us stopping to take in beauty of the Alexander Calder sculpture, representing the areas 3 major waterways.

Philadelphia, like Boston, is a city of many neighborhoods, each with its own colorful personality and characteristics.  One of the most interesting is the South Street area, and that was our next destination.  On this street, I saw the first evidence of the city’s extensive Mural Arts Program. Every wall in the city is a potential canvas, and this philosophy is evident with over 3600 murals found all over the city.  Begun in 1984 as a program to help eliminate graffiti,  professional artists as well as those on the way, have been encouraged to apply to showcase their talent.  There are several tours featuring the artwork, as well as downloadable guides for self guided experiences.  It has to make Philadelphia the outdoor art mecca in the country.

There is an eclectic selection of shops, boutiques and restaurants, but we were most anxious to renew an old friendship.  First stop was the Eyes Gallery, where Julia Zagar has been a supporter of Fair Trade long before it was trendy and has put much of her life’s effort into supporting sustainable crafts from around the world.  My cohort in girlfriend getaways and I had been the lucky participants in several of Julia’s Art and Soul Trips which she co hosts with Deb Colburn from Nomad in Cambridge, MA.  It was exciting to finally see her gallery in person and much time was spent perusing the many treasures she offers.

Julia’s husband, artist Isaiah Zagar, is responsible for one of the most magical and photographically challenging spots I have ever visited.  The Magic Gardens is a mosaic wonderland, filled with colorful and over the top walls of up cycled tiles, mirrors and found objects which have come together to create an environment unlike anything you have ever seen before.

Zagar has devoted himself to beautifying the South Street neighborhood since he moved there in the 1960’s.  His work can be seen throughout the streets adorning doors, building facades and inside his wife’s folk art store.

I so enjoyed sitting and taking it all in, as well as eavesdropping on the comments of others.  Best were the children that wandered by outside and stood in awe trying to comprehend what they were seeing.   It’s really impossible to describe, or capture on camera.  Suffice to say at this point after a day of total visual stimulation, my head was spinning.  We were lucky enough to break bread with this fascinating couple and call it a night soon after!

Green With Renvy partnered with Visit Philly for this trip.

  1. Philly is an amazing city and you have introduced me to new places in this tour. Like you, I think the Zagar experience would be better in small doses. Lots of visual stimuli there!

  2. Your post made me feel like hopping on a train, too!

  3. What a fun part of Philly! I love street art and repurposing. Great to see this and I’ll be sure to check it out when I’m there next year.

  4. I love art and the idea of using different materials in art. It is a visual and sensory feast.

  5. Donna Janke says:

    I too love the feel of the grand stations from the 1920s. Magic Gardens is so unusual and intriguing. It would definitely be on my agenda on a Philadelphia trip.

  6. I loved your colorful art tour of Philly, even if you did leave out the iconic LOVE sculpture!

  7. Lisa Chavis says:

    So much cool stuff to see in Philly! I had no idea! The 30th Street Station looks like such an iconic place – but all of it looks like fun. I love your site – it’s wonderful!