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Vol. LXIII, No. 33
Wednesday, August 19, 2009
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For Princeton University Computer Technician, Art Trumps Almost Everything Else in Life

Ellen Gilbert

“I fix computers, but that’s not who I am,” said Princeton University Computer Technician Mark Pellecchia, as he mused about his work, his art, his illness, and life general, over iced tea in Small World Café.

Historian of technology and culture Edward Tenner, currently a visiting scholar at Princeton University and the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center, doesn’t quite see it that way. “He’s the best computer technician I’ve worked with, solving some gnarly problems of the Windows Registry [a database that stores settings and options for Microsoft Windows operating systems] that would defeat others,” he observed. “Mark is one of those people who keep things running and are taken for granted but have much more going on than people realize.”

Mr. Pellecchia’s all-consuming passion these days is his art: drawings, sketches, carvings, small intricately patterned abstracts, a six-by-nine foot canvas for graffiti, and notebooks bursting with ideas. He attributes the pre-eminence of art in his life to his illness, kidney disease, from which he has suffered since childhood.

After a four-and-half year wait, Mr. Pellecchia has finally reached the top of the kidney transplant list, meaning that “the call” could come any day. “I’m on a roller coaster,” he frankly admits, describing his current “hurry up and wait” existence. He has received four preliminary calls, alerting him to the potential use of a kidney received at one the several hospitals where he is registered. A second follow-up call confirming that it’s a definite match has yet to come. In the meantime, he goes to dialysis three days a week. A catheter that must remain in his right shoulder for the time being limits his activities, keeping him from favorites like rock-climbing, mountain biking, and camping.

“Limit” does not seem to be part of his vocabulary with regard to his art, however. To the evident dismay of nurses, Mr. Pellecchia continues to whittle wood using a knife even as he undergoes dialysis, for which he receives Heparin, an anticoagulant.

Self-taught in art — as he was in computer technology — the East Windsor resident describes his pleasure in the act of creation. “I bounce; my mind is all over the place. I love spray paint art. It gives you the freedom to really go nuts.” He notes that “you have to move quickly with spray paint, a subtlety that a lot of people don’t realize.”

Inspiration can come from anywhere; patterns of light on the ceiling when he wakes up in the morning, the shape of a musical instrument, or, as recently happened, a pair of earrings worn by a fellow passenger on an airplane. “They had an African influence with a half-moon shape,” Mr. Pellicchia recalled. The result is a new piece of art that will be posted on his website,

Joking that he “may have a short man complex,” the good-natured Eastern Long Island native says that he takes pride in everything he does. After 13 years as a corporate computer consultant, he switched to the Princeton job, where he has worked for seven years. It is difficult to pry such everyday facts from him — such is his eagerness to talk about his art.

“It’s fun; it feels good,” he says of the act of creation. He refers often to making “connections” between various designs and is continuously building on what he has already done. Right now he is hoping to acquire two old microwave motors from which he will make an arc welder for doing aluminum sculptures. Without access to a shop, he works at home, an increasingly difficult proposition as his pieces become larger.

“Art helps me in a lot of ways,” said Mr. Pellicchia. “More than I realized, getting sick really sparked my interest in art; it was a blessing and a curse.” He has little interest in displaying or selling his art right now, although he admits that he has signed some pieces, so that “if anything happens” during the kidney transplant, his friends may see some remuneration.

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