Wednesday, March 25, 2015

#282: East Village Mosaic Trail

St. Mark's Place, East Village, NYC

It's roughly the size of a bottle cap, sits at shin level, and was almost lost amid the swirl of eye candy on a busy, mosaic-clad street pole, but somehow this 282 got my attention. I found it years ago while waiting on the traffic island close to the giant rotating Astor Place cube where all the disaffected youth mope, and I doubt I'd have noticed the tiny number it if it weren't for the traffic light holding me up. Traipsing up and down Manhattan's sequential grid is one sure-fire way to find numbers, but it's the unexpected catch like this one that keeps things fresh.

If you've ever taken a stroll through the East Village, then you're probably already familiar with the artwork of Jim "Mosaic Man" Power. Maybe you've stumbled upon one of these colorful lamp post mosaics, too, noticing a sudden patch of beauty in the middle of a harried, ugly commute. Power, a Vietnam veteran and much-loved figure in the Village, has been steadily beautifying his 'hood shard by shard for over twenty-five years. The bits of colored glass, plates, mesh, marbles, and whatnot are part of the neighborhood street furniture. He's decorated close to a hundred street poles with his vibrant mosaics along a two mile stretch. But the last few years have seen these pieces endangered.

With the proposed so-called sleek redesign of Astor Place that included the removal some of his poles, Power began dismantling some of his own artworks out of protest. But community efforts to save his work sprang up. It's a conservation effort well worth it. Shards of mirrors, chunks of ceramics, wild patterns, and colorful lettering: once you start noticing his pieces, they're impossible to miss. And it's impossible to imagine the East Village without them.

Photographer Lara Elmayan at Untapped Cities has done a noble job of documenting Powers' work in its entirety, and you can read more about Power and the mosaic trail here. But the best way to see his stuff? Take a walk.

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