The walk-through mural masterpiece that is Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens has a new exhibit in its indoor gallery. Artist Lynn B. Denton’s “Personal Symbols” incorporates selections from her paintings, sculptures and film, exploring her  artistic history with the city and  connection to Isaiah Zagar, the founder and artist behind the Magic Gardens. 

Zagar started the space as a neighborhood mural project, eventually turning it into a nonprofit organization and permanent art destination.

Originally from Tennessee, Denton, 73, has been creating art in Philly for 40 years, with a focus on community projects. In 1997, she worked with neighborhood kids in North Philly to install a ceramic tile mural in the Susquehanna-Dauphin Station concourse on the Broad Street Line. SEPTA didn’t provide quite enough funding, so Denton doubled her budget by accepting donations from neighborhood organizations, which led to more community involvement and public art pieces. 

In the spring, Denton took a cue from Zagar’s many murals along and just off South Street and created a tile mural on the wall around her studio nearby, facing the small side street the studio is on. “Isaiah has several murals along here,” says Denton. “Finally, I was able to put my own signature out here.”

The new mural reflects the same themes and imagery of her Magic Gardens exhibit. “I use a lot of symbols,” says Denton. “Spirals, the house shape, the zigzag snakes — those are part of the vocabulary of the paintings that I have made.”

The exhibit includes works spanning three decades. 

“A lot of it is automatic drawing and automatic marks that develop into imagery,” says Denton. “The zigzags are a kind of recurring motif. I see it a lot in the textiles of American Indians, which I love. I’m not sure where the zigzags originated in my psyche, but I love that motif.”

Public art

Part of the Magic Gardens exhibit covers the backstory of Denton’s public artworks in the city, chronicled through photos and other media. “I’m really interested in the transformation of space and the way that can change a whole part of a city,” says Denton. “And people begin to take ownership in that area and take ownership of their neighborhood and of their community.”

If you go

“Lynn B. Denton: Personal Symbols” is on display at the Magic Gardens, 1020 South St., through Sept. 13. Admission is $7.