August 2002: The Artist at Work

Extra Fine Points Index  ]


BY DON FLUCKINGER • Having written about Mia Hamm last month, I wasn’t planning to write again this month about "celebrities my fountain pens have known."

But please, indulge me once more, and let me tell you about my good friend Mario Henri Chakkour. Like the Mia Hamm tale, this one also involves a Sheaffer, but not the same one — this Sheaffer is my new favorite carrying pen. A beautiful 1940s Balance 2000, the pen possesses substantial-but-not-excessive heft, a massive, gorgeous two-tone Triumph nib, and solid 14K trim including a generously wide cap band.

What happens when you give a lifelong painter a Sheaffer Balance, 30 seconds, and a blank page? Find out here. Extra Fine Points

It’s something of a miracle pen, one of those diamonds in the eBay rough that I’d won for a song, maybe twenty-five bucks. Although I can’t remember the exact figure, I do remember bidding low because it was a Vac-Fil, and I was factoring in the likelihood that I’d have to send the thing off to good friends Rick Horne or Nathan Tardif for filler repacking. The seller had noted that the pen didn’t fill properly.

That’s typical. While Sheaffer’s pens of the era were built like brick outhouses, the Vac-Fil packing almost always gives out by the time a collector rediscovers it. Furthermore, only a couple guys can properly repair them nowadays.

Contrary to the seller’s description, however, the pen filled perfectly and didn’t leak. It became an immediate favorite. Like me, you probably have about four levels of reaction to a new pen acquisition:

One, it comes and you hate it because the pen has a flaw or just isn’t the cool writing instrument you’d seen at first blush;

Two, it’s one that fills a gap in the collection but it probably won’t be making the rounds except on rare occasion;

Three, it’s a very nice pen that you carry for a while until the honeymoon ends, at which point it gets tucked away in storage but makes appearances in your pocket from time to time; and

Four, the Instant Classic. The pen you show all your pals. The pen you can’t let out of your sight for months at a time. One that gets heavy rotation.

This pen was an Instant Classic. I even relied on it to be the only fountain pen I took on a two-week vacation — and judging by frequent Zoss list threads on the topic, I’m not the only one who finds it hard to pick vacation pens.

Which brings us to Mario Chakkour. He doesn’t know it, but he’s something of a hero to me.

As a writer, I ain’t no Papa Ernie Hemingway, but I put together sentences well enough to scratch out a living doing it. As a speaker, however, I couldn’t talk my way out of a paper bag. Once my mouth opens, I sometimes get flustered and inarticulate before I even take my first breath.

Mario, on the other hand, can speak well — and persuasively. Once Mario talked me into changing jobs, and then he proceeded to talk the salty CEO of the company for which he thought I should be working into hiring me. By the time I got to my only interview for the job, my interviewer was salivating over the prospect of my working for him. That had nothing to do with me, let me tell you. When it comes to selling, Mario is nails.

Mario, who is Lebanese, also writes well. In English. Which is pretty cool, considering it’s his third language. He is an artist, an architect, and an author. He paints, he writes about painting, he designs multimillion-dollar buildings, and with partner Gregory Scott Wills he has written textbooks and multimedia software that college art professors use to teach drawing and painting techniques. (His trademark is Virtual Pose.) In his spare time, he writes and performs music.

He’s not only succeeded in technical and creative realms, but he did it after a tumultuous childhood in Beirut. Experiencing constant destruction around him through his formative years didn’t forge bitterness in Mario’s soul, but rather a caring, well-rounded personality. In his shoes, I’m certain I would not have turned out so well.

We met a few weeks ago at a Bethesda, MD, Thai joint to catch up. At the end of the night, Mario whipped out a copy of his newest book, Virtual Pose 2, that he’d brought along for me. I gladly accepted it, but being an incorrigible autograph hound, I gave it back to him for inscription. I handed him my Sheaffer 2000 and he went to work.

Mario, always the artist and the improviser, signed his name and whipped off a (literally) 30-second sketch of a baseball player, apparently because my enthusiastic anticipation for attending the next day’s Orioles game at Camden Yards had rubbed off on him.

“I didn’t know fountain pens could be used by a serious artist for drawing,’ I said to him as I watched in awe as he worked, a batter in stance quickly evolving on the page in real time as fast it would in one of those time-lapsed video segments of a half-hour PBS art lesson.

“Actually, some of them work well,” he said, the nib whipping around as he talked. “This one does.”

With that, Mario deemed his sketch finished and handed back the book. I thanked him and we said goodbye until the next time. By then he surely will have come up with some other way to blow me away with his talent.

Sketch of a baseball player, Copyright 2002 Mario Henri Chakkour


cover Further Reading: Virtual Pose 2, by Mario Henri Chakkour, Missy Loewe (Photographer)

Recently, Mario Chakkour published a sequel to his original Virtual Pose book/CD-ROM multimedia art class.

Freelance writer Don Fluckinger lives in Nashua, New Hampshire, and is the son-in-law of Richard Binder. His articles have been published in Antiques Roadshow Insider, The Boston Globe, and on the Biddersedge.com collectibles Web site. Please note: Any opinions stated in this column are Don’s alone and do not necessarily reflect those of Richard Binder or this Web site. Don Fluckinger
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