Journeys in New York – The Mosaic Man, East Village

The East Village in NYC is an exciting and vibrant place, full of fashionable boutiques, small bakeries, pubs, restaurants, ice-cream parlours, yoga teachers and bookshops (one of which opens until 12 at night!). Walking along St Mark’s Place, you can’t help but notice the mosaic art work that has been attached to the lamp posts along the route. Who was responsible? It took weeks to find out, and then one day, there he was, working away on a piece that I’ve titled ‘Watch out for Cat.’ The artist is man called Jim Power, aka, The Mosaic Man. He is probably in his early to mid-sixties, although it is hard to tell. He wears denims, a tee shirt, a long ponytail, and he now has an electric scooter to aid his travel. Power told me that he’d emigrated to New York from Waterford in the late 1950s. He’d worked in the Carpenters’ Union, and had some hand in building the original Twin Towers. When he first arrived to New York he played rock and roll music, and discovered a latent talent for building domestic details, but on a very large scale. He proudly recounted several tales, one of which involved building an enormous stone fire place that “the the Vikings would be proud of” in twenty four hours. According to the artist, the fireplace was over ten foot high. It sounded like something you might see in a Norman tower house.

Moving from large scale to small detail seems to have been easy for Power. Having moved into the East Village to live, he thought that the area needed “something to brighten it up.” He began working on his mosaic lamp posts twenty eight years ago, completing over seventy over the years. But mosaic is fragile, and susceptible to the changes in weather; several have all but disappeared. There are now about twenty left, and Power is intent on rebuilding those that have been lost. His plan is to dedicate the new and the refurbished mosaics to lost friends and to others who seem deserving of the accolade. He’s an interesting man to talk to – open to questions, and happy to tell anyone about his dedication to art, and the importance of his art, and indeed, all art, in public places. He keeps a Facebook page, and a blog page – have a look –

While I was taking the photographs of Power’s work, several local people stopped to speak to me. They were pleased that I was so interested in ‘The Mosaic Man’. The neighbours watch out for Power; they are genuinely fond of him, and of his work. He is very much part of the East Village. He is ‘their’ mosaic man.

I asked Jim Powers about his family – he said they were from Waterford, or near perhaps, to Kilkenny. One of his grandmothers’s won an Irish dancing medal in 1916 – a Miss Rolleston. She was, he assured me, the first person to embroider an Irish dancing costume. “Was she on your father or your mother’s side?” I asked. He looked at me with his twinkling eyes, swimming, as they were, in a sea of weather beaten leather. “Do you know”, he said, “I can’t remember.” He didn’t seem to mind his lack of ability to recall that detail – he was inordinately proud of her anyway. One thing seems certain – he surely got his eye for colour, decoration and appreciation of form from his Irish grandmother of long ago, who, one imagines, danced her way to her hopes and dreams in Ireland in 1916. She’d be very proud of her grandson, Jim Power, aka, The Mosaic Man. The people of the East Village are very proud of him too.

About artanddiaspora

Art historian, curator, author, lecturer, visual artist, arts consultant. Insomniac. Early morning writer. Late night reader.
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