The Incredible Story of the Imagine Mosaic at Central Park
There is a story in every piece of mosaic art, and we love sharing them. On this 50th anniversary week of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” song release, we visit a famous New York City installation: the home of the famous Central Park Imagine Mosaic.
A Special Memorial to a Legend
Located in Central Park West, Lennon’s Strawberry Fields memorial is near West 72nd Street. Visitors can see The Dakota apartment building in the background. The view is purposeful: it’s a few hundred yards from the spot where the former Beatle was shot dead on Dec. 8, 1980. Today, Ono still lives there in the home they shared.
Measuring in at 2.5 acres, shaped like a teardrop, the Imagine Mosaic/Strawberry Fields area is a designated Quiet Zone within the park. At the groundbreaking, Ono commented that they had taken their last walk together in the small hilly area, adding, ”John would have been very proud that this was given to him, an island named after his song, rather than a statue or a monument.”
The most famous part of Strawberry Fields is the circular mosaic art located within a pathway. It contains a single word, the title of one of Lennon’s most famous songs: “Imagine”. Done in the style of Portuguese pavement, it’s inspired by Greco-Roman designs.
Out of the vast music catalogs created by the Beatles and John Lennon, two songs are significant to his memorial. Here’s their history.
1. Lennon and Strawberry Fields
The source of the memorial’s name, the song “Strawberry Fields Forever” was written by Lennon in 1966, while he was in Almeria, Spain. As a character in the anti-war film How I Won the War, John wrote the song on an acoustic guitar. With the luxury of many breaks in filming, he completed it quickly.
It appeared later, in 1967 as a trippy, psychedelic single. The production segment did not go quickly. After 45 hours of studio time, the song was a startling new direction for the Beatles. Lennon named it as his finest work with the group.
At the time, the Beatles were taking a break from touring, and were regrouping. “Strawberry Fields Forever” was a catalyst for their next album: “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”.
The name of the song wasn’t particularly mystical. It referred to Strawberry Field, a Salvation Army children’s home near his childhood home in Woolton, Liverpool. He played in its gardens with his friends. In summer, he could hear the Salvation Army brass band play – another aspect of the Sgt. Pepper project.
2. The Story of the Song Imagine
The centerpiece of Strawberry Fields in Central Park is a large mosaic design. It bears but one word: the name of the best-selling song of Lennon’s career. From the 1971 album of the same name, Imagine is loved around the world. Later in life, he said that much of the song’s “lyric and content” came from his wife Yoko Ono. She received a co-writing credit in 2017.
The iconic song was ranked by Rolling Stone as number three on its list of “The 500 Greatest Songs of All Time”, describing it as “an enduring hymn of solace and promise that has carried us through extreme grief, from the shock of Lennon’s own death in 1980 to the unspeakable horror of September 11th. It is now impossible to imagine a world without ‘Imagine’, and we need it more than he ever dreamed.”
The song, just 22 lines long, encourages the listener to simply imagine a world without religion, countries, politics, or possessions, with all living in peace. Since its release, it’s become an anthem for hope.
It’s a perfect choice for Lennon’s memorial and legacy.
The Story of Strawberry Fields, the Memorial
You know about the songs, now let’s learn about the park! The spring following John Lennon’s murder, a patch of land in Central Park was named “Strawberry Fields” in his honor. By August 1981, the project received funding from Lennon’s widow, Yoko Ono. She requested a “living memorial” rather than any statue, stating that the Park already had enough statues.
Architect Bruce Kelly took on the renovation and landscaping, which began in April 1984.
In April 1981, after John Lennon was murdered, a patch of land in Central Park near the Dakota was named “Strawberry Fields” in Lennon’s honor. That August, it was announced that Strawberry Fields would be completely renovated and landscaped. At that time, the land was located in an isolated median between West Drive and two slip roads of 72nd Street. Yoko Ono requested that it be a “living memorial” rather than a statue, stating that “there are enough statues in Central Park”.
The memorial was designed by Bruce Kelly, the chief landscape architect for the Central Park Conservancy, and work started in April 1984. The formerly scrubby place was transformed into a spot with rolling landscape and plants from around the world.
After planting 150 trees, 5,000 shrubs and 20,000 perennials, the park was dedicated on what would have been Lennon’s 45th birthday, October 9, 1985, by Ono and NYC mayor Ed Koch.
Today, it’s a popular spot, a Designated Quiet Zone within Central Park, and a gathering place for vigils each year on Lennon’s birthday. If you’re planning to visit, Strawberry Fields is located on the west side of Central Park between 71st and 74th streets. By subway, take the B or C train to 72nd Street station and enter the park.
The Imagine Mosaic
How did the little park become so popular? It’s all about the mosaic art!
Ono intended Strawberry Fields to be an “International garden of peace”. Thus, gifts from other countries began to pour in:: “A tile bench from the Moroccans, a fountain from the French, a totem pole from the Aleutian Indians, a huge amethyst from the Paraguayans,” reported the New York Times in 1985.
Architect Bruce Kelly knew that these would never be approved by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission.
Finally, the Times reported, “He told Yoko Ono she could choose only one of the elaborate international gifts. She picked a round black and white mosaic sent by the Italians, with the word ”Imagine” in the center of an ancient starburst pattern.”
It was constructed onsite inthe park by the Neapolitan artisans.
And, so, today the heart of Strawberry Fields is the Imagine Mosaic. This marvelous gift measures 34 feet across, and is decorated more often than not with flowers left by visitors.
Elsewhere in Central Park, New York
While at the Park, consider dropping by the Bethesda Terrace Arcade, located south of the Bethesda fountains The ceiling is another work of tile art. Built in the mid-1860s, the design was created by Jacob Wrey Mould and the tiles were manufactured by the Minton Company of Stoke-on-Trent, England.
They’ve been lovingly restored and are well worth a visit for lovers of mosaic patterns.
Honoring the message
John Lennon’s legacy of peace and free thought still brings people together at Strawberry Fields. The simple message of the word “Imagine” is a profound one. Our version of this iconic mosaic art is a beautiful way to carry on his ideology.
It also pairs beautifully with this companion piece – possibly as beautiful mosaic wall art.
Since it’s likely that you’ve been humming the song as you read our article, we have to ask: When was the last time you heard Imagine played? It certainly holds a special meaning for almost anyone you ask!