PRINCE ANDREW ROMANOFF | West Marin
There is a Russian prince living in the woods of Inverness. He would have been tsar had the Bolshevik Revolution not happened. His name is Prince Andrew Romanoff, known by some in his community as His Serene Highness, an epithet that is remarkably accurate. The dignity and elegance assumed of royalty is readily apparent in Andrew’s upright stature, soft British accent, well-groomed handlebar moustache, and paisley-printed neckerchief—of which he has an entire collection. Even at 92, Prince Andrew is spry and active—he does yoga, swims in the Tomales Bay, makes turkey meatballs from scratch, and creates shrinky-dink art, which has been his medium of choice for the past 20 years.
“One senses that Andrew never set out to play the role of an artist or a collector. Rather, the philosophy of his life is lived out, not spoken of—an embodiment, not an aspiration. He’s mastered the art of doing, where the rest of us are merely striving, or trying. He makes art, he collects art, he gardens, he cooks. He lives long and lives well.”
To make a shrinky-dink, a children’s toy and craft first invented in 1973 and popularized in the 80s, Andrew paints and draws on thin sheets of flexible polystyrene plastic. He then bakes the sheets in a toaster oven—a crucial piece of equipment in his studio space—for three minutes, during which the plastic shrinks, becoming thicker and more rigid. Surely the playfulness of the medium has maintained his youthful spirit (and visage). Andrew’s studio falls somewhere between a craft room—there are colored pencils, markers, papers, and a plastic Looney Tunes ruler on a long rectangular table—and a museum, with its rich trove of stately photo albums, books, and historical artifacts related to and descended from his storied Romanoff lineage.
That royal lineage has profoundly influenced the narrative of Andrew’s life, which he documented in his autobiography The Boy Who Would be Tsar, but here in Inverness, in a red shingled house that he shares with his wife Inez, Andrew has created his own colorful world of baubles, trinkets, souvenirs, and art: framed art, baked art, wearable art, usable art. Beyond his shrinky-dink creations, Andrew makes jewelry, casting obsidian arrowheads found on nearby beaches into gold and silver. If you sit down for tea, you’ll drink out of homemade cups and eat off of plates made by he and Inez. One senses that Andrew never set out to play the role of an artist or a collector. Rather, the philosophy of his life is lived out, not spoken of—an embodiment, not an aspiration. He’s mastered the art of doing, where the rest of us are merely striving, or trying. He makes art, he collects art, he gardens, he cooks. He lives long and lives well. The Prince of Russia doesn’t have to prove anything to anyone, or be anything other than who he is—but no one needs to tell him that. He already knows.