Mosaic Benches at Grant’s Tomb

National history and public art intersect at the General Grant National Memorial in Riverside Park in the form of seventeen mosaic benches. The colorful benches wrap around the exterior of the building, providing a stark contrast to the austere mausoleum. Since their creation in 1972, the benches and their relation to Grant’s Tomb have been flashpoints for debate about the role and value of public art. The benches were produced by CITYarts, created by professional artists and community volunteers of all ages, and led by artist Pedro Silva. Through intensive workshops, the community came up with images and ideas that were incorporated into the benches, which were inspired by the style of Antonio Gaudi, a Spanish sculptor and architect. Between 1972 and 1974, Silva, six professional artists, and large numbers of volunteers constructed the benches from iron rods, wire mesh, and poured concrete. They laid mosaic tiles over the framework. The free-form benches extend for more than 350 ft. around the sides and back of the memorial, and are set back about 25 ft. from the building. Silva and the volunteers created a variety of mosaic designs, including a portrait of General Grant, depictions of his travels and accomplishments, and what one writer called an “energetic medley” of other images, including an elephant in a jungle, a New York taxicab, bouquets of flowers, and a flooding fire hydrant.