James A. "Jim" Power, a.k.a. Mosaic Man, Mosaic Trail

Status

Extant

Address

Saint Marks Place , New York, New York, 10003, us

Built

begun 1985

Visiting Information

The art is located on 8th Street between Avenue and A and Broadway, and beyond, East Village, New York. All extant and in-process poles are available for viewing day and night, and the artist is happy to talk to passersby about his work if he is on-site

About the Artist/Site

Power went into the military at the age of 22 and served a year in Vietnam. Upon his discharge, with undiagnosed PTSD, he moved to the East Village and found work as a carpenter and stone wall builder. He loved working outside, and most particularly the public aspects of being able to interact with locals in his community.

Beginning around 1985, Jim Power began covering the bases and the poles of light posts in the vicinity of Tompkins Square Park in New York’s East Village with mosaic designs. At that time, the community was much deteriorated – “it looked like London during the war,” is how Power described it. Buildings were crumbling, windows were broken, and construction detritus was everywhere. Because he refused to give up his beloved dog, he became homeless, as he wasn’t welcomed in shelters or hotels as long as he kept the dog by his side. He squatted in abandoned buildings or slept in parks, under plastic or cardboard.

In 1988 a local riot broke out, in which 500 policemen intervened and many locals were hurt. Soon after, Mayor Giuliani began a widely-publicized clean-up campaign, which authorized sanitation officers to take down anything they felt detracted from a “clean” city; the reality is that they attacked any unusual creation or adornment with sledgehammers. In particular, Power’s poles were targeted by the Anti-Graffiti Task force, which destroyed some fifty of Power’s poles. The public was furious, and their intervention prevented the city from destroying all of the work.

Each of the 80 poles that Power has decorated was/is different, and each refers to a local narrative, resident, or history, defining the East Village as an artistic community. And Power, repaying the community’s support, now feels the responsibility to work to replace all of the poles that were damaged or destroyed during Giuliani’s clean-up campaign. In 2004, Mayor Bloomberg signed a proclamation lauding Power for “beautifying the city with distinctful, artful mosaics,” and city eventually gave him permission to work on public property. To help with supplies, he began a social media campaign that promised that each person who donated $100 would get their name or photograph on a pole. Calling it the “People’s Pole,” he crowed that “with the glue I’m using, these things will stand through a nuclear blast!”

Other extant poles include the Gangster Pole, which has images of Al Capone, John Dillinger, and local Mafioso “Lucky” Luciano, who lived two blocks from this pole; the Fillmore Pole includes the names of bands, such as the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers, who played concerts at this famous venue. A pole for a long-gone Yiddish theatre and its performers (including Berns and Allen), one for the Please Don’t Tell Speakeasy, one commemorating the tenth anniversary of the New York City blackout, one honoring neighborhood antique and art stores, one celebrating the New York Fire Department and another memorializing the Twin Towers and those who died, one for Abraham Lincoln, one for the NAACP, and others for local streets and squares: Union Square, Saint Mark’s Place, Astor Place, Tompkins Square Park. Each takes some one to two months to finish, and is created with small pieces of ceramics, mirror, and found objects.

Power is still accepting donations on his website through an alliance of the nonprofit organization City Lore and the Village Alliance. All extant and in-process poles are available for viewing day and night, and the artist is happy to talk to passersby about his work if he is on-site.

~Jo Farb Hernández



Map & Site Information

Saint Marks Place
New York, New York, 10003 us
Latitude/Longitude: 40.7285977 / -73.9876718

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