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July 25-31, 2007

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What a Life

Romanoff's artistic royal autobiography depicted in Shrinky Dinks

By Patricia Lynn Henley


He's been a sailor, a farmer, a carpenter, a timekeeper for a shipping company, a jewelry maker, a manufacturer of "smoking paraphernalia" (hookahs and hash pipes), a folk artist--and, oh yes, he started out in life as His Serene Highness Andrew Romanoff, grandnephew of Russia's last czar. He dropped the title when he moved to the United States in 1949, so now he's simply Andrew Romanoff, age 84, longtime Inverness resident and artist. His extremely unusual life story is depicted in The Boy Who Would Be Tsar, published earlier this year in conjunction with an exhibit of his artwork at Gallery 16 in San Francisco. He appears July 28 at Book Passage.

The colorful pieces in the book were all created in Romanoff's preferred medium, Shrinky Dinks, a children's plastic craft material that gets about one-third smaller when heated in the oven. Romanoff has worked with Shrinky Dinks since 1990, when he was first introduced to the unusual material and fell in love with it. He buys the small sheets of the plastic in batches of 500 at a time from the factory, draws and letters on them with well-sharpened colored pencils, then bakes them in a toaster oven to intensify the colors.

"It's an immediate response and sometimes you don't know exactly how it's going to come out," he explains. "It's kind of a dangerous moment, you might call it, in art."

If not for the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, it's possible that Romanoff might have been czar of Russia. Romanoff's family was rescued by England's King George V, who sent the HMS Marlborough to Saint Petersburg to save Duchess Xenia, the czar's sister and Romanoff's grandmother. Born in London in 1923, Romanoff grew up in a 23-room "cottage" on the grounds of Windsor Castle. His storybook childhood is just part of his remarkable life journey, all of which is captured in vivid color and details in his exceptionally unique autobiography.


Romanoff reads from and discusses 'The Boy Who Would Be Tsar' on Tuesday, July 31, at Book Passage, 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera. 7pm. Free. 415.927.0960.


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