Philly’s Mosaic Man, Isaiah Zagar, celebrates 80 years!


A Letter from Emily Smith, director at Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

Posted in Preservation News, SPACES News, Threatened Environments

Hi everyone, 


I’m assuming most of you know by now that we lost our bid to historically designate the Painted Bride. There was over three hours of very passionate testimony from both sides and the vote was dramatic: a 5-5 vote then 5-4 for the re-vote. It was a long and shocking afternoon, extra thanks to those of you that attended the meeting. It was intense. I needed a few days of space before reaching back out to all of you. Here’s a link to the WHYY coverage:  


What is frustrating about the outcome is that almost everyone in the room (even the Bride) seemed to agree with the historic criteria and that the building is an icon. Though hardship should have been dismissed for a second meeting, the final call was based on the Bride’s argument that designation would stifle their ability to move forward unencumbered. 


It was a disappointing day and if the building is demolished, I do believe in just a few years the city will be deeply regretting this decision. 


When I woke up on Saturday, I felt so proud of us. I know there was nothing we could have done differently: we were thoughtful, articulate, organized, and full of integrity. Fighting for art and for strange spaces will always be an uphill battle.  Every single person on this email took time from their busy schedules to voice their opinion. Our communities will never understand what these places mean to us unless we continue to push back. Even facing loss, it is so important to try. 


So thank you. Reading your letters of support, getting fired up during phone conversations, the handshakes of respect after we lost- those were invaluable moments. I hope that you will continue to talk about the building and tell this story. Maybe next time it can be different for someone else. 


In terms of next steps, there are not many options. We will not be appealing or suing, it doesn’t make sense in this situation. I think it is time to focus our efforts on encouraging the Bride to find a sympathetic buyer. I’d love any suggestions you may have in terms of rallying the community to petition the Bride in this way. 


Warm hugs from the Gardens, 


Hoffman's The Last Resort in California to Form Non-Profit

Posted in Preservation News, Take Action, Threatened Environments


In an effort to save and maintain The Last Resort, created by David Lee Hoffman in Lagunitas, Marin County, California, a nonprofit organization is being formed.


last-resort-faces-jfh-nov-2016Jo Farb Hernandez, 2016.

The site is at a critical point: the county is threatening to put the property up for auction next year, and the court-appointed receiver is ready to begin demolishing two of the structures.
The creation of the nonprofit will bring together people who will help to meet the challenges facing the survival – as well as, hopefully, to outline positive future plans – for this innovative art environment. Goals of the nonprofit will include fundraising to support financial obligations related to future code upgrade requirements, facilitating local and global interest in the use of ecologically-friendly black water and grey water systems, and creaing a vision for the educational and culture future of the site.


 See more about The Last Resort Lagunitas on SPACES and visit The Last Resort Lagunitas website here.


Read our previous update on The Last Resort:

Update on The Last Resort Lagunitas


Watts Towers Update: Rosie Lee Hooks found NOT GUILTY!


At the September 13 meeting of the Los Angeles Civil Service Commission, Rosie Lee Hooks was found not guilty on all charges stemming from having a mural of Charles Mingus painted on the Youth Arts Center named after him. The Commission found the evidence presented by the Department of Cultural Affairs to be seriously flawed. Hooks’ suspension has been revoked and the compensation from her suspension in April that was withheld will be paid. 


Mural of Charles MingusMural of Charles Mingus, a Watts native, on the Charles Mingus Youth Art Center building by L.A. artist Jacori Perry

Read our previous posts about Rosie Lee Hooks’ suspension:

Final Hearing for Watts Towers Art Center Director on September 13

Watts Towers needs our help again!


Final Hearing for Watts Towers Art Center Director on September 13

Posted in SPACES News, Take Action







The L.A. Civil Service Commission will consider its final decision Thursday, September 13, on Watts Towers Arts Center Campus Director Rosie Lee Hooks’ appeal against the three-week suspension imposed upon her by the Department of Cultural Affairs. The final hearing will be at 10:00 a.m. in Room 350 of the L.A. Personnel Department Building, 700 East Temple Street.


After a July 31 hearing, Ms. Hooks was found not guilty of insubordination, but guilty of not adhering to the public art approval process to paint a mural of Watts native son and jazz giant Charles Mingus, last September, on the Charles Mingus Youth Arts Center on campus.    


This finding has been called into question by substantial documentation proving that Ms. Hooks was unaware of this process, contradicting Community Arts Director Leslie Thomas’ testimony. Mr. Thomas admitted that he had approved Ms. Hooks’ vacation for the month of May, 2016, but insisted that she was definitely in attendance at the May 5, 2016, meeting where she was informed of the Public Arts Ordinance approval process.


Lawyer Adam Stern, representing Ms. Hooks for her union, the Engineers & Architects Association (EAA), has submitted to the Commission an airline check-in confirmation and Ms. Hooks’ passport with a dated visa stamp for additional consideration. This material proves that, at the very time of the May 5 meeting, Ms. Hooks was in transit to Johannesburg, South Africa. 


An internationally-honored community arts administrator and educator, Ms. Hooks has served twice as interim Director of the Watts Towers Arts Center, and was appointed Director in 2002. She was previously Director of Festivals for the City’s Cultural Affairs Department and produced the first Central Avenue Jazz Festival and many others. She also established, with Buddy Collette, the prestigious Watts Towers Arts Center Jazz Mentorship Program. 


When the Cultural Affairs Department put Ms. Hooks on suspension without pay in April, the community support groups for the campus expressed concern that the action against her was an act of retribution for her continuing efforts to advocate for the Watts community.


Community support group members and campus staff have, over the years, developed a long-range vision for the campus, its arts and educational programs and the presentation to the public of Sabato Rodia’s Watts Towers, a world-renowned masterpiece of architectural sculpture. As Watts Neighborhood Council Chair Jacquelyn Badejo attests, “For years, the community groups have asked the city for appropriate resources to support our vision, getting very little in response from the Cultural Affairs Department, the Mayor’s Office or the 15th Council District, and they have never shared with us their own long-range plans for the campus or the Watts community.” 


Affirming the union’s advocacy for Ms. Hooks, Labor Representative Geoffrey Garfield of the EAA states, “We offer any assistance the Watts community needs to end the blatant harassment of an adored arts educator.” 


watts-towers-Watts Towers. Billy Reed, 2015.

Click here to learn more about the Watts Towers, built from 1921 to 1954 by Italian immigrant Sabato Rodia. 

Dispatch from the Field: Singular Spaces, Volume 2 in progress!


Midway through my extended trip to Spain documenting additional art environments in preparation for the second volume of my Singular Spaces book, I remain astonished by the amazing artists in this country and the range of their unique works. So far this season I have traveled down the east coast of Spain and also journeyed to the north and west, and by this writing I have visited 26 “new” sites (that is, new to me) and has also revisited several that I had documented in earlier years. The sites, ranging in scale, medium, aesthetic, and technique, include architectural fantasies, monumental stone and wood sculpture, paintings that cover every surface within the home, concrete menageries, prolific inscriptions, and more.


Two of the architectural marvels that I visited this month include the Centinela tower by Santiago Nava and the complex of innovative works by Carlos Salazár Gutiérrez (known as Salaguti), both of which are currently in process in central Spain. Both artists are smart, thoughtful, and innovative in their works. Nava, however, who is building in a small city, has faced repeated problems with the municipal authorities, and has even had to tear out a portion of the upper levels of his construction in order to comply with mandated demands. In contrast, Salaguti, working in the country in the middle of vacant or agricultural lands, has been able to work in relative peace. 


Nava’s five-story monolith fits snugly into the triangular intersection formed by two diagonal streets, towering over the smaller buildings on both sides. It is being constructed of fine stone, marble, concrete, copper, ceramic bricks and untold different species of wood, creating the impression of an imposing yet almost fairytale fortress. At the very top of the structure, steel walkways connect the points of the corners, with elaborate finials of eagles, angels, and figures, each attached in such a way that they can be swiveled to catch the sun.


Centinela tower by Santiago Nava. Centinela tower by Santiago Nava. Jo Farb Hernández, August 2018.


The top level of the interior reveals an intricate and sophisticated masterpiece of wood joinery, with “floating” stairs leading to the rooftop terrace.


Santiago Nava stairs 2018“Floating” stairs leading to the rooftop terrace by Santiago Nava. Jo Farb Hernández, August 2018.


Nava’s windows are particularly of interest: each has a completely different shape, and each requires a distinct treatment on the interior to allow them to actually open. This one is in the shape of an eagle, often used to represent the Spanish state:


window - santiago nava, 2018.Eagle-shaped window by Santiago Nava. Jo Farb Hernández, August 2018.


In contrast to Nava’s rectilinear geometries, Salaguti’s work – both his discrete paintings and sculptures and the buildings he is constructing – focus more on organic and curvilinear forms. His studio, the exterior façade of which includes a self-portrait of himself, looks out over the low hills of Castilla León. Within the cupula is an exhibition of his discrete works.


Exterior façade of studio with self-portrait by Carlos Salazár Gutiérrez (known as Salaguti)Exterior façade with self-portrait by Salaguti. Jo Farb Hernández, August 2018.


While the visible architectural elements have been in place for over twenty years, he continues working inside, most recently in a subterranean basement area:


Subterranean basement by SalagutiSubterranean basement by Salaguti. Jo Farb Hernández, August 2018.

Salaguti is constantly sketching, designing, and building, dreaming of additional structures and ways to explore innovative aesthetic treatments on both interior and exterior, reflecting his visions of how humankind interacts with all natural elements in the cosmos. 


This fieldwork has been both extremely fruitful and extremely gratifying so far – I have met smart, creative people who, on their own, without help or academic training, are changing their own spaces in ways that none of us have yet experienced. Stay tuned for my next report on some of Spain’s other “new” sites!


Jo Farb Hernández

August 2018



Isabro Ventura “Charro” Ortega passes away



The man who hand-carved and painted La Casa de Las Nubes or The House of the Clouds passed away August 14 of an apparent heart attack at age 66.


Born and raised in the tiny mountain town of Trucas on the High Road to Taos in  New Mexico,  Isabro “Charro” Ventura Ortega left his hometown only to work and go to school. He was more intersted in staying at home, carving and painting the interior of his house - a two-story building perched on a rim road in Truchas, 8,000 feet above sea level that he named La Casa de Las Nubes. 



Though Ortega began building his house in 1984, his masterpiece was still a work in progress when he died. The exterior, covered in the gray scratch-coat that comes before stucco, doesn’t reveal the artistry it holds within. His first carving of a small santo led to more, as well as to small frames, noise-makers, and arrows. But he also returned to the Casa de las Nubes, innovatively carving window frames, niches, doors, ceiling, and even some floor treatments, each different, and each stunningly distinct. With some he added rusted cans, picked up on the road in front of his house, the cans that his own parents had used and tossed out; with others he added small twigs of willow, branches of mesquite cactus, or rounds of copper. He was able to make a living fabricating frames, small pieces of furniture, and doors for clients; he also taught carving classes in the summer for local children. Between commissions and teaching, he returned to work on his Casa. He was influenced by Spanish Colonial art and the iconography of the Catholic Church. Native American imagery shows up in the form of Kokopelli and kachina figures carved in doors or framing the mirror in his master bathroom.



Ortega, never married or had children. He left La Casa de las Nubes to his niece,  Laurie Leyba Martinez. “I plan to keep it and honor his legacy,” she said. “Maybe turn it into a gallery so everyone can remember him. I plan to bury his ashes at his home so he’ll never have to leave his home, and make a shrine of him and his art. I don’t ever plan to sell it. It’s the last part of him that I have.”


Kohler Foundation seeks Preservation Coordinator

Posted in job opportunities, Preservation News

Preservation Coordinator - Kohler Foundation
Location: Kohler, WI

The Preservation Coordinator assists the preservation team in all phases of projects including the research, acquisition, cataloging and conservation of art collections and art environments. The coordinator supports the foundation’s outreach to and projects with museum professionals, artists, conservators, technicians, contractors and others to complete projects in a timely and professional manner with respect to budgets, team collaboration and preservation goals.

The individual will assist in project tracking and reporting and must have project coordination experience. The coordinator is a self starter with a flexible and collaborative style, strong interpersonal skills, and excellent follow through. The individual will interact with a variety of fields of discipline and backgrounds. The position requires high proficiency in computer software, outstanding organizational skills, and experience with art-related projects. The coordinator works well under deadline, and can handle multiple projects at once. The coordinator has a strong interest in art and preservation initiatives. 

  • Participates in the search, acquisition, preservation and gifting of collections and art environments.
  • Documents assigned projects, including dimensions, descriptions, condition reports, and photography. Prepares spreadsheets and other documents to retain the information in a usable and accurate manner. May require travel to off-site projects.
  • Prepares a wide variety of presentations, reports, and spreadsheets as assigned.
  • Occasionally makes presentations on topics related to art preservation and completed projects.
  • Supports preservation and KFI staff in tracking preservation projects.
  • Assists with collection care and hands-on cleaning of artwork, often working with art conservators.
  • Hands-on maintenance of warehouse and conservation spaces.
  • Works with Preservation Manager with packing and delivery of artwork. Coordinates shipping and transportation.
  • Performs other related assignments delegated by the Executive Director and Project Managers.

Relationships and Contacts

         Supervisory Relationships:

  • Reports to Executive Director, Kohler Foundation
  • Provides daily support to two Preservation Project Managers
  • Guides the work of contract employees and interns, as assigned

         Organization Relationships:

  • Constant contact with all KFI staff
  • Frequent contact with staff of John Michael Koher Arts Center and other museum professionals
  • Frequent contact with art conservators and other contract employees
  • Occasional contact with KFI Preservation Committee members


  • Bachelor’s degree in art history, studio art museum studies, or a related field required.
  • Outstanding organization skills
  • Proficiency in Word, Excel, and Powerpoint, and ideally photo editing software. Photography skills highly desirable.
  • Requires a valid driver’s license, and up to 20 percent travel in and outside of the state including occasional weekends.
  • Must be able to lift boxes up to 35 pounds, and load items to heights of three to four feet. 

Please provide a cover letter that showcases why you are interested and qualified for this position. 

This is a full-time, salaried position, with benefits.

The Preservation Coordinator is an employee of the Kohler Foundation and not Kohler Co. Kohler Foundation is a private, non-profit charitable organization, committed to the preservation of art environments and important collections across the U.S. We also support art and education initiatives in the state of Wisconsin. To learn more, check out our website at


Click here to begin application process through Kohler Co website. 

SPACES Mourns the Passing of Julio Basanta

I am so sad to share the news of the passing of art environment builder Julio Basanta, who died July 8, 2018. He was 85 years old.


Although I began visiting and documenting Basanta’s spectacular Casa de Dios [House of God] on the outskirts of the village of Épila, near Zaragoza, Spain, in 2008 and 2009, I didn’t have the opportunity to meet Julio in person until one of my subsequent visits, in 2014. He was intense and passionate about his work, and his total commitment to it was evidenced in the construction, painting, and constant repainting of numerous demons, devils, and other assorted figures of myth and legend that practically eclipsed the three little castle-like buildings he himself had earlier constructed on-site. Motivated at least in part by the trauma of his abandonment by his father at an early age, his creative expressions were inflamed by the murders of a brother and his only son, some twenty years apart. Basanta’s site, dense with fearsome and disturbing characters that were incongruously painted in bright and vivid colors, has been one of the most compelling and extraordinary of Spain’s art environments for at least the past fifteen years.


The future of the site and of Julio Basanta’s artwork is, at present, uncertain. We all mourn his loss.


Jo Farb Hernández


img5489-brightened-and-resized-2008Casa de Diosimg8988-resizedCasa de Dios

Skin of the Bride goes to full Philadelphia Historical Commission for Historical Designation consideration July 13

Isaiah Zagar (born 1939) was a nineteen-year-old art student when he met Clarence Schmidt, creator of the House of Mirrors in Woodstock, NY. This meeting changed his life, and radically expanded his notion of the kind of art he could make and where he could make it. After three years in the Peace Corps in Peru, Zagar settled in the South Street section of Philadelphia in the 1960s, then a rundown area with cheap rent. Since that time he has continued to live and work in this same area, following the path that opened up for him following his meeting with Schmidt.

zagar1Isaiah Zager with one of his colorful mosaics.

Zagar’s art has two main manifestations. The best known, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, is an exuberant art environment and gallery space built on two vacant lots adjacent to his studio. Constructed on multiple levels with open-air corridors, entryways, staircases and rooms, it teems with color and a dizzying assemblage of found objects. The walls include inlaid texts as well as images and, in one section, pay homage to artists such as Sabato Rodia and Ferdinand Cheval.

The other demonstration of Zagar’s art can be seen on over 100 buildings in the Philadelphia area that have been adorned with multi-story glass and ceramic mosaic murals. Perhaps his most renowned work outside of the Magic Gardens is Skin of the Bride, which sheaths the Painted Bride Art Center. It has been an icon in the Philadelphia area since its creation between 1991 and 2001 (Zagar later donated the mosaic work to the center).

Painted BrideThe Skin of the Bride. Photo courtesy of Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

However, this work is now threatened. The Painted Bride Art Center has plans to move out of the adorned building and sell the property to the highest bidder, using the proceeds to support its project-based activities. Originally a raw industrial space used to manufacture elevators, it was purchased in the late ‘80s for $325,000 and is now worth well over $2 million. It is sure to attract prospective buyers, but conservation of the mural by potential new owners is not guaranteed. 

This concern, then, inspired the effort to obtain historical status for the mural. Undertaken largely by advocates at the Magic Gardens, and supported by a panel of the Philadelphia Historical Commission in a unanimous vote, the recommendation now goes to the full Historical Commission for consideration at its July 13 meeting.

Skin of the BrideSkin of the Bride. Photo courtesy of Philadelphia's Magic Gardens

 Despite this positive community support, some on the board of the Painted Bride believe that historical designation would severely hinder the organization’s goals, as it might negatively affect the sales price of the building and, thus, their endowment, used primarily to support contemporary artists in Philadelphia. Others find the Art Center supporters’ indifferent attitude toward their long-time home perplexing. Old City resident Rick Snyderman, who himself once sat on the Bride’s board, noted, “I find it extraordinary … that an arts organization is advocating the destruction of an iconic work of art. What a strange time.” 

Emily Smith, executive director of the Magic Gardens, is advocating strongly in support of saving the site: 

Historic and cultural spaces matter. This building’s façade represents the power of community, rebellion of spirit, and that creative minds can (and should) transform our neighborhoods. This place honors the dreamers who came before us. It is a reminder of the sweet strangeness of Philadelphia that needs to be championed, not forgotten, as the city develops.

If you are interested in learning more about the effort to support the historical designation process for Isaiah Zagar’s mosaic on the Painted Bride Art Center, please read the application, and, if you are in the area, attend the next scheduled Philadelphia Historical Commission meeting at 1515 Arch Street on July 13, 9:00 AM. 

Read Smith’s full letter for Skin of the Bride here.

Learn more about Isaiah Zagar here. 

Thanks for your support in helping us save this important artwork!


Painted BrideThe Skin of the Bride. Photo courtesy of Philadelphia's Magic Gardens


UPDATE! Save Nashville artist William Edmondson's homesite!

Posted in Preservation News, Self-Taught Arts in the News, Take Action, Threatened Environments

After hearing about city plans to sell Edgehill Community Memorial Park, concerned members of the community spoke up in support of preserving the beloved communty park and African-American historical site. Nashville’s municipal government has abandoned plans to sell the land on which artist William Edmondson, the first African-American to ever have a solo exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art,  lived for decades. The proposal to sell Edgehill Community Memorial Park to the highest bidder — which includes Edmondson’s homesite where he lived and worked in until his death in 1951 — would have likely resulted in that land being bought by private developers. After the community rallied together and raised their voices, the Metro Budget and Finance Committee voted unanimously to remove the sale of Edgehill Community Memorial Park, also known as the William Edmondson Homesite park and community gardens, from their budget recommendation.

“Their vote sends an unmistakable message that balancing the budget on the backs of neighborhood parks and civic spaces, done behind closed doors in disrespect to the affected community, is not only poor policy, but terrible process,” stated Mark Schlicher, co-chairman of the Save the Edmondson Homesite Park & Gardens Coalition. “We urge the full council to heed the will of the people and the wisdom of the Budget and Finance Committee, and pass the Sledge amendment as part of the budget tomorrow night.”

The proposal to sell the park to the highest bidder was a shock to artists, historians, and the city’s African American community; it also further obscured the legacy of a figure who is often overlooked in Nashville’s history. “We wouldn’t think about taking a bulldozer to the home of Thomas Edison,” said Tennessee State University professor Lee Williams. “These spaces should not be erased from our memory.” In response that the park would be potentially be sold, the art and academic community wrote an open letter opposing the sale and calling for the site’s preservation.  “For too long, the treasure that is William Edmondson has been taken from Nashville and from Edgehill and allowed to enrich other communities,” the letter reads. “It’s time to bring him home.”

William Edmondson’s work was featured in the recent exhibition Outliers and American Vanguard Art. Although his home no longer exists on the grounds of Edgehill Community Memorial Park, the surrounding neighborhood was an important part of his artistic career, and it was a neighborhood that has historically brought together Nashville’s black working class and upper-class white citizens.


Browse Blog Archives by Month

In memory of Silvio Barile, creator of Italian-American Museum
Self-Taught Arts in the News

Coco's Palais Idéal Paintings

SPACES Honors Lyn Kienholz, Trustee Emerita

Chris Vo’s Flower House in Cleveland has been destroyed against his will!

Job Opening at Craft & Folk Art Museum Los Angeles, CA: Manager of Communications and Exhibitions
job opportunities

Nitt Witt Ridge Enters the Real Estate Market!
Take Action, Threatened Environments

Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park Celebrates 1 Year!
Preservation News, Take Action

A Letter from Emily Smith, director at Philadelphia's Magic Gardens
Preservation News, SPACES News, Threatened Environments

Hoffman's The Last Resort in California to Form Non-Profit
Preservation News, Take Action, Threatened Environments

Dispatch from the Field: Singular Spaces, Volume 2 in progress!

The SPACES website allows you to save your favorite art environments and share them with your friends or colleagues. Create your own portfolio of your favorites from environments in the online collection.

Send them to your friends, post them on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter and tag #spacesarchives 

Look for this button on pages that can be saved:

Add Page to my spaces