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East Village's 'Mosaic Man' Launches Line of Belt Buckles

By Julie Shapiro | February 28, 2012 11:27am
Jim Power,
Jim Power, "Mosaic Man," wearing one of his belt buckles, has decorated many lampposts in the East Village.
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DNAinfo/Julie Shapiro

EAST VILLAGE — Fans of Jim Power's East Village mosaics can now take a piece of his street art home with them — on a belt buckle.

Power, nicknamed "Mosaic Man" for decorating lampposts and planters throughout the neighborhood for the past three decades, has launched an Etsy page selling his mosaic buckles for $99.

The Vietnam veteran, 64, who has been homeless and now sometimes stays in an assisted-living apartment on the Lower East Side, said he was resistant at first to selling his artwork, but friends convinced him to open the online store.

"Everybody said to make belt buckles and sell them," Power said Monday afternoon as he worked on a St. Mark's Place lamppost, supported by a hand-tiled cane. "I'm not really a seller. [But] I'm tired of being broke."

Each buckle takes Power at least several hours to craft, and no two are the same. Some show clearly recognizable scenes, like a bright, tropical-looking toucan, while other designs are abstract, like "Life on Mars," which is made of polished red stones.

"A lot are like little treasures," Power said. "I don't want to sell them at all."

Power made his first belt buckle several decades ago, before he started covering the East Village in colorful tiles. It was made of solid lead and was not designed as a piece of art.

"It was meant to be heavy so you could ... use it as a weapon," Power recalled, smiling at the thought. "I'm not a jewelry guy."

More recently, Power began making decorative belt buckles for his friends and neighbors and occasionally sold them on the street when he needed cash.

Now that the Etsy shop is up and running, Power said he hopes to also set up a Cafe Press store, with photos of his mosaics that people can print on T-shirts, mugs and other items.

He hopes the proceeds will help pay his bills while he continues working on his latest project — creating a series of East Village lampposts devoted to different countries.

So far he has done one for America and one for Japan, on opposite corners of Second Avenue and St. Mark's Place.

"Even with all the difficulties, we can get it together and move forward," Power said of the message he hopes to send.

"It's not about me. It's about the community."