First published: Spring 2014
Jim Power, a formerly homeless Vietnam vet, has dedicated his life to turning the East Village into “the most beautiful square footage in the world.” Much of that effort – including mosaics he painstakingly set on 70 public light poles – was torn down in the 1990s by the Giuliani administration in an effort to rid New York of so-called graffiti. Since then, he has decorated 40 new poles – and now, with the renovation of Astor Place, some of those poles are coming down.
National Geographic’s Walking New York lists Power’s Mosaic Trail as the starting place for a tour of the East Village: Power is proud of that. He is also proud of the official proclamation from Mayor Bloomberg, commending him for beautifying the city with distinctive, artful mosaics.
Since falls from steel-girders many years ago, Power has trouble walking. Nonetheless, he and Jessie Jane, his 13-year-old Labrador mix, accompany me through his neighbourhood. With his long, yellow-white hair tied in a ponytail under a ragged baseball cap stitched with “First Cavalry Division,” he points his mosaic-studded cane to sparkling gems sunk in concrete grout.
One of his earliest mosaics was constructed in an abandoned East Village building. Stuck in the massive concrete panel are Mayan masks and flowered glass globes – left over from a copper railing Power repaired in the Rainbow Room. There are broken columns and a mug cracked through the words, “With Justice for All” – Power’s ironic indictment of the drug and crime riddled society he saw crumbling around him when he made his “We the People, 1787–1987” panel. That panel is now mounted in front of the Sushi Lounge on the corner of St Marks and Avenue A. It is, Power says, “the longest lasting piece of guerrilla art in history of New York City.”