During the holidays our family observed a ritual that's developed over the last several years; we get together with another family and explore "the city." This year it was Philadelphia. The first day we hit the normal tourist places, the Liberty bell, etc. On the second day my daughter took us on a walk off the beaten path and over to South Street. She told us about a place called the Magic Garden, which is such a hokey name I would usually avoid anything that sounds like it. But she was insistent and has a lower tolerance for hokey than I do, so we went. None of the pictures I'll post below will do it justice, you just have to go. The short story is one of an old man, an artisan, a creator of mosaics, who squatted on an abandoned lot on South Street. It was full of rubbish and junk. He created a garden out of the junk, a garden of terraces and alcoves and stairs. Once he got going he just kept on adding. Although the owners of the lot tried to take it back and complained that it was an eyesore, he would leave. Somehow he found enough money to buy it away from them. Once people on South Street saw the Garden others wanted the artist to come and mosaic their places. Churches and houses and garages and businesses are now adorned with his works. It looks like South Street itself is gradually turning into a work of art. There is a saying which occurs over and over in the work. It is this:
(Art Is The Center Of The Real World - click to enlarge)
I puzzled over this. It sounded true, but it sounded like an echo, not the first note. Later in the morning we wandered through the Magic Garden itself touching the pieces laughing, smiling, enjoying each other and the art. Turning a corner into one of the lower parts of the Garden we came upon an old man. He had kind, mischievous eyes and was sweeping up pine straw from a tree over hanging the wall. Dumping a dustpan into an old five gallon bucket he used for a trash can he looked up and greeted us with the most welcoming smile. It was the artist himself. He was amazing to talk to, remembered our names after one repetition, posed for a photo with us, invited us into his workshop and showed us new things he was just beginning to create, and you could just tell that our enjoyment of his art was his enjoyment of his art too. It wasn't just his, he made it ours.
We met the artisan in the art. He was tending to it, he was creating still more of it. He was the center of the reality of that world. The art was the echo, the artisan the center.