ITHACA N.Y.—Local artists banded together over the last several months to plan, fund and create a memorial statue in honor of the late John Gavin Mahoney, the Ithaca street artist behind the iconic “Lost Cat” graffiti tag. 

The delicate and simply-structured statue is made of mild steel, titanium and bronze, and was handcrafted by local blacksmith and artist Teo Aceto at his workshop, Crepuscular Forge. The project took about 45 hours over the course of 3 months to complete, according to Aceto.

It was installed and unveiled in its new permanent home, at Press Bay Alley on West Green Street in downtown Ithaca, on July 7. 

Credit: Casey Martin / The Ithaca Voice

The project was funded by crowd-sourced donations “from friends of Lost Cat,” Aceto told The Ithaca Voice. Tony Sidle, a friend of Mahoney’s, organized the fundraising efforts. 

Aceto said he and the other organizers had several meetings to plan and draft the project. Throughout the design process, it was important to Aceto and the others to incorporate Mahoney’s style of minimum design seen in his street art into the sculpture, according to Aceto. 

Ryan Sherry, a friend of Aceto’s and a fellow local artist, is credited with the final design of the statue. He came up with numerous sketches and architectural ideas to incorporate. 

“I then went about my labor to make this a real homage and recognizable piece of artwork,” Aceto said.

Teo Aceto stands with the statue, which he created. Credit: Casey Martin / The Ithaca Voice

Mahoney’s art has long been considered by local residents symbolic of Ithaca as a whole for the last 20 years or so. The tags are simple and usually consist of a stick figure-esque cat. 

There are thousands of his “Lost Cat” tags spray-painted on buildings and various locations all around the City of Ithaca. Sidle estimated in past reporting by The Ithaca Voice that there are probably between 5,000 and 10,000 tags in the city and nearby area. Mahoney’s Instagram account shows 240 posts of “Lost Cat” tags of varying size and intricacy. 

Mahoney died in April of this year at the age of 55, having spent decades in Ithaca where he enjoyed kayaking and working at local eateries like the State Diner and ABC Cafe when he was not spray painting. 

News of his death shocked not only his friends, family and fellow local artists, but the Ithaca community at large. Mahoney usually concealed his connection to the Lost Cat graffiti. Many residents who had long recognized Mahoney’s collection of spray-painted cats came to know his true identity only in his passing, through social media posts and online tributes from those who knew him outside of his street art.

Aceto said that while he only met Mahoney a few times, he likes to think they could have been friends. 

“My personal epitaph for perpetuity would be,” Aceto said, in reference to memorial words he would write, “‘Lost Cat- please return.’” 

Many of Mahoney’s graffiti tags still remain, and color what otherwise would be blank brick and concrete. Visit the online interactive map, “Lost Cat Ithaca,” to see locations where “Lost Cat” graffiti tags have been found.

Correction: This piece initially included a typo in Teo Aceto’s forge business.

Judy Lucas is a General Assignment Reporter for The Ithaca Voice. Have a story idea? Comment or question? You can reach me at jlucas@ithacavoice.org or on Twitter @judy__lucas.