"The Spirit Wall" Mural at Dorsey's Knob
“The Spirit Wall” is a 50-foot mosaic mural created by Philadelphia muralist Isaiah Zagar, local artists, and volunteers as part of BOPARC’s Arts in the Park program. Dedicated in 2006, the mural is inspired by animals and imagery in the stories of Native Americans. It is located at Dorsey's Knob Park, 70 acres on a hill that provides a scenic view of Morgantown.
Backstory and Context
“The Spirit Wall” was created by Isaiah Zagar, an award-winning muralist who works in mosaics. Zagar is best known for his “Magic Gardens,” an indoor-outdoor work of art that covers three city lots in Philadelphia. Zagar attended the Pratt Institute of Art in New York City and focused on painting and graphics. Inspired by the eclectic works of Clarence Schmidt, Pablo Picasso, and Antonio Gaudi, among many other professional and amateur artists, Zagar began a career in mosaic murals. Zagar is inspired by both his home of Philadelphia, where he was born in 1939, and his world travels, which include destinations such as China, India, and Latin America. His work in the Peace Corps in the 1960s also introduced him to folk artists in Peru. In his art, Zagar incorporates material that others may throw away: broken glass, ceramics, bottles, toys, and bits of junk ranging from old bicycle tires to shoes. His 2D and 3D works have been exhibited across the United States in places such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.
While most of his work is in Philadelphia, Morgantown was lucky to receive one of his works. "The Spirit Wall" according to the dedication plaque, is "a community celebration of the Native American history, culture and storytelling surrounding Dorsey's Knob." Though Dorsey's Knob bears the name of the man who purchased the land, Sky Rock is the Native American name for the unique rock formation on this hill. The mural depicts a variety of animals, including birds, fish, turtles, deer, coyotes, bobcats, and bears, in abstract form. You can also see yourself reflected in the shards of mirrors incorporated among the colored ceramics.
The mural project was directed by Debora Palmer (BOPARC Arts Coordinator), Sonda Cheesebrough (art teacher at a local elementary school), Irma Barazzone (art teacher and director of the ceramics used on the mural) and Ron Justice (the mayor at the time). Dozens of artists, both adult and youth, along with volunteers made Zagar's vision a reality.
Rainstorms over the course of 2016 damaged the Spirit Wall and required the mural to be dismantled. The salvageable pieces were restored while those that could not be saved were replaced. Today, the mural is back in one piece and is as beautiful as ever.
“About Isaiah Zagar.” Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. Accessed July 2018. https://www.phillymagicgardens.org/about-us/about-isaiah-zagar/
Gleeson, Bridget. “Trash to treasure: the Mosaics of Isaiah Zagar.” The Lonely Planet. Accessed July 2018. https://www.lonelyplanet.com/usa/pennsylvania/philadelphia/travel-tips-and-articles/trash-to-treasure-the-mosaics-of-isaiah-zagar/40625c8c-8a11-5710-a052-1479d277fa95
“Native American Studies program to host Anishinabe storyteller July 18.” WVU Eberly News. July 13, 2016. Accessed July 2018. https://eberly.wvu.edu/news-events/eberly-news/2016/07/13/wvu-native-american-studies-program-and-board-of-parks-and-recreations-to-host-anishinabe-storyteller-july-18