I had the privilege of interviewing Julia Zagar in advance of her upcoming show, Dear Julia, at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens commemorating her significance in her husband Isaiah’s long career and within his oeuvre, as well as the transformation of their South Street neighborhood, and the formation of the nonprofit museum that preserves his legacy. She did all of this while mothering their two sons, and running the Eye’s Gallery, her meticulously curated, ever-growing accumulation of art, texture, and color imbued not only with the culture and histories of the peoples whose work is displayed, but too with the spirit and vision of the extraordinary woman who tirelessly champions their art.
The show will feature artwork by both Julia and Isaiah in a range of media, as well as by artisans from around the world.
I asked Julia a few questions about her show. Here is what she said:
RBU: When was the last time you exhibited your own artwork? What was your medium of choice? Subject matter?
JZ: I was a bit of a star at Cooper Union in both the Painting and Sculpture Departments. After Cooper I went on to Mexico City College where I finished my degree and began to show in group shows in Mexico City.
I had my first one person show at the D’Alessio Gallery on 86th street in NYC. It opened Feb. 8th, 1963. It was the coldest day of the year, no one came, I didn’t sell anything BUT I did get a call and later a visit from a skinny pink faced artist who three months later I married.
At that time I was an assistant teacher at the Art Students League. My work was based on the models I saw there and then the landscapes I worked from in the summers in Woodstock, NY.
RBU: How do you feel about exhibiting again?
JZ: Seeing the work again after all these years is both pleasant, shocking and embarrassing. I probably would never had agreed to the show if it wasn’t to raise money for women artists.
RBU: How would you describe Isaiah’s work when you first met him? When did things begin to change? What role did you play in the evolution of his work? How has your own artistic/creative energy changed over the years, and how has it developed?
JZ: Isaiah always had much more work energy than me and was more focused. He, at Pratt majored in print making, so together we began to publish hand made books, especially while we were in the Peace Corps living on the shores of Lake Titicaca.
We entered the Peace Corps so that he could avoid the draft but I was the one enamored with folk art. Even while in high school I would visit museum folk art collections and galleries that were selling pre-Columbian work. I introduced Isaiah to the “work of the people” and together we began to work collaboratively with folk artists.
RBU: In what ways has running the Eye’s Gallery nurtured you creatively/your aesthetic sensibilities?
JZ: Children and The Eyes Gallery changed my artistic world completely. My international arts knowledge became more extensive and more profound. It didn’t just include the canvas on the wall but creative work from the world, and in many different mediums. Also promoting, teaching and selling work of different craftspeople was very exciting. To understand better this city and the art field I got a Masters degree from what is now The University of the Arts. This training later led to the forming of the Magic Gardens and the developing of the 501C3 status for the Gardens.
RBU:In what ways do you feel you have influenced Isaiah’s oeuvre? Do you think he could have created the kinds of things that he did without your influence/support/collaboration?
JZ: OMG I have influenced Isaiah’s work tremendously. He had never traveled before I met him, he was exposed to folk art through me. The Eyes Gallery supported us for years so he could work and maintain a normal home life.
He might have found another way but because we came to Phila., because we stayed and we had space to be creative, we blossomed. The 60s, 70’s and 80’s were very exciting times for Phila. and South Street and because of our
education and experiences we were able to establish ourselves, and understand how to work publicly in the city.
RBU: How would you describe your current relationship to art?
JZ: There are many ways to learn, for me it is experiencing, and handling work. We have traveled a lot handling the fabrics, carrying the sculptures, meeting the artists. It has been a tremendous stimulation for all my life.
Dear Julia opens Friday, April 29 – Sunday, June 26, 2016. The opening reception is on Friday, April 29, 2016; 6:00 – 9:00 PM.
Proceeds from the exhibition will fund the pilot of The Julia Zagar Residency Program for Women Artists.
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In conjunction with the show, Eye’s Gallery will host a four day fiesta celebrating all things Julia. We will offer a special 20% discount on some of Julia’s favorite things in the shop: Flax clothing, antique and vintage textiles, masks, and the ceramics of Josefina Aguilar and family. There will also be a special trunk show of vintage Mexican jewelry, that will only be available for this four day period. Our fiesta will run from Thursday, April 28 – Monday, May 1