This short internet documentary from Etsy profiles Jim Power, a.k.a. “Mosaic Man,” an artist and local historian of sorts on Manhattan’s Lower East Side who creates tile portraits of the city’s most significant people and places. Power embodies all of the qualities that attracted me to the neighborhood in the early 2000’s—a hard-bitten do-it-yourself ethos and a dedication to communal values. And he has withstood the forces that drove me out: the often harsh impact of so-called “quality of life” laws passed by Mayors Giuliani and Bloomberg and the soaring rents occasioned by encroaching new developments and ever-increasing demand for real-estate on the island. During Giuliani’s tenure in the 90s much of the arts community in lower Manhattan was swept away, including fifty light posts bearing Jim Power’s now-classic mosaics.
But Power is undaunted and is working to rebuild the “Mosaic Trail,” tile mosaics on a series of light poles and other fixtures representing several eras of Lower East Side history and culture. Power’s mosaics have been a stalwart feature of the neighborhood’s idiosyncratic landscape, as has the artist himself. Homeless for nearly thirty years, he is sustained by the generosity of his neighbors, who have donated studio space and helping hands. But he contends with the harsh conditions—whether on the streets or in the city shelters—that all New York’s homeless must, as you can read on his website. Nonetheless, Power thrives, in part, because as the documentary’s director Tara Young writes on her Etsy blog, “Jim’s not out for fame. He makes his art for the community that he loves and that loves him so dearly in return.”