For 30 years, Jim Power has created mosaics that have transformed the Big Apple

By Diana Pearl
Updated November 13, 2015 11:00 AM
Courtesy Home Depot

Thanks to Jim Power, New York City street poles have been getting a face-lift for the past 30 years.

Since 1985, the Vietnam War veteran – known to many as the Mosaic Man – has been taking New York City street poles, particularly in his neighborhood of the East Village, and turning them into intricate mosaics.

The ongoing project began when Power returned to New York after doing stone work in California for six years. Walking around the city, he says he felt something was missing.

“I used to travel down Park Avenue and just want to add something to brighten the city up,” Power tells PEOPLE.

His background in stone work made mosaics a natural fit.

“The work affects everyone,” he says. “Everyone seems to like it.”

He didn’t have stone on-hand, so instead, he used dishes and tile, mostly from donations. As the years went on, more and more of his creations began to pop up on polls around the city.

Today, Power’s hard work attracts visitors to the “Mosaic Trail.” While most of the poles reflect the neighborhood they’re in, others have are inspired by other countries, or even people Power has met on the street.

For Power, his mosaics were – and still are – therapeutic. Within 36 hours after leaving the military, he says he began feeling the effects of PTSD. And like many veterans, he dealt with homelessness. He says creating these poles uplifts his spirit.

Power’s projects are about to get a lot easier to pursue, thanks to the Home Depot, who is working with Shane Duffy, a national home improvement expert, to transform Power’s small studio into a better workplace for his art, as part of Home Depot’s charitable foundation’s efforts to provide safety and accessibility upgrades for veterans.

In Power’s studio, Duffy and his team will install safety grab bars and devices as well as create a mobile work space so he can work on his craft at home.

“It’s a celebration of service,” Duffy tells PEOPLE. “Jim’s an artist. He needs space, he needs storage. He needs things to make his daily life easier.”

The result? Power’s street poles will continue to grow in number.

“I want these to last for 1000 years,” he says. “My real goal is to get them in every school in New York. Kids will be running to school instead of running out of them.”