Tony Romano: A Man of Many Talents By: Patricia O'Friel

Tony Romano is a kind and unassuming man whose warm smile and welcoming spirit are evident from the moment you meet him. His restaurant, Romano's, is one of the classics of St. Thomas. Tony's artistry as a chef and reputation as a successful restaurateur were established long before his emergence as a fine artist.

Tony was raised in New Jersey in a very interesting and creative Italian family. He started drawing in high school and continued into college. There his interests expanded to focus on music as well. He studied music theory and piano and later taught himself tenor saxophone, flute, and guitar. His interest in art and the development of his eye for fine art were fostered by his uncle, Dr. Nicholas Giarritta, who was an avid collector and became Tony's mentor in many ways. Nicholas was the owner of a fine dining restaurant under whom Tony learned the art of cuisine. Tony worked with his uncle for years perfecting his own abilities as a chef and businessman. He moved to St. Thomas in 1985 with his children, Tony and Nina, and opened Romano's where he established an outstanding dining institution. It has become widely known as a place of elegant cuisine, attentive service, unique art exhibits, and warm ambience, a place where the visual and culinary arts blended and enriched one another.

While Tony's interest in art continued through the years as he built his business and expanded his own collection, his talents as an artist lay essentially dormant, although he did continue to sketch when he could. Then a serious illness brought him close to death in 1999 and left Tony unable to work in the restaurant for a year. He soon picked up a paintbrush and began to paint. From the very beginning he felt a drive and sense of purpose. Tony's near-death experience gave him a renewed appreciation for life and a new discipline and focus as he developed a love for painting. When he eventually returned to his schedule at the restaurant, he changed many long established work and social routines so that he could concentrate on what became a passion for his art. He describes leaving the restaurant and painting at night -- usually until dawn -- while listening to music, often jazz or classical works.

Asked about his style, Tony is quick to respond that he does not want to be labeled and trapped in a particular category. He attempts to be open to new forces and experiences and to take risks in trying new techniques. He is committed to constantly stretching beyond his comfort level. He works primarily in oil, but his subject matter is varied, and his repertoire of styles is evident in even a cursory view of his creations. Oil paintings are joined by encaustic works, highly textured abstracts are featured next to portraits, rich layers of shimmering glaze flank bold strokes of flamboyant color. He balances discipline and freedom. Stunning colors and forms prevail, yet subtler feelings are conveyed as well. Tony is a master of paradox as is evident in a recent sculpture. The bust of a woman with her finger to her lips is called "Sh-h-h," yet the work's bright primary colors and wax rivulets of energy and motion call out and seem to intensify her request for silence.
Tony bristles a bit when someone refers to his art as a "hobby." He says that the idea that he is a restaurant owner with an after hours hobby is erroneous since he approaches his art with a discipline that goes far beyond the breadth and depth of any hobby's scope. Tony's prolific output and remarkable success as a painter attests to his strong commitment to what he passionately pursues and regards as his purpose at this point in his life. In fact, he speaks of feeling a profound sense of "destiny" about his need and desire to paint. The vision of the valley of death has led to incredible and unique visions which Tony expresses with deep vitality and obvious awareness of the precious gift of life. Even in casual conversation, Tony frequently speaks of feeling "blessed."

The paintings Tony has created are vibrant and alive. Some literally jump out of the canvas as hands and faces emerge in layers of oil or encaustic overlaps. Heavily textured oils go beyond impasto techniques and create dramatic and thought provoking visual statements. Others are playful or romantic or even a bit nostalgic as in one painting of a special café in Paris. Tony's musical interest comes through in images of musicians in bold, bright colors.

Tony's love for what he refers to as the "theater of fine cuisine" is nowhere more evident than in paintings where he incorporates his interest in food and wine within his art. One painting protests the use of screw tops instead of corks on fine wine bottles (a recent attempt by some producers to modernize and economize). This painting is a large, bold work in which the intricate designs take precedence over the very real protest nearly hidden within the lines and angles. Other paintings are bright still lifes of fruit and fresh produce. One work presents the orderly design and vivid colors of the restaurant refrigerator filled with the fresh fruits, vegetables, and other ingredients ready to be used in the day's preparation.

Tony Romano is a talented musician, a celebrated purveyor of fine cuisine, and an award winning artist whose work has been exhibited in world class galleries and collected internationally. He has been called a "Renaissance Man" in a recent issue of DESTINATION magazine, and this label is a perfect one for this inspired and inspiring man of the world. Fortunately, he is also a man of these islands whose creativity enriches and celebrates this special place he calls home.

“The Virgin Islands Council on the Arts: Advocating for the Arts for over 40 years”

On January 19, 1966 the Virgin Islands Legislature adopted Bill No. 2699 establishing a Council on the Arts, under the Department of Education. At that time the legislature recognized that Virgin Islanders lacked “the opportunity to view, enjoy or participate in living theatrical performances, musical concerts, operas, dance and ballet recitals, art exhibits, examples’ of architecture and the performing and fine arts generally”. They further recognized that practicing and enjoying the arts is essential to enriching the lives of the people of the Virgin Islands. By establishing the arts council, the Virgin Islands took its first steps, in making the arts accessible and a significant part of the Virgin Islands culture.
Stephen J. Bostic, a St. Croix musician was the first director of VICA. As a well traveled musician, Mr. Bostic, understood the value that a council for the arts can have on a community. He paved the way for Mr. John Jowers, who in 1985 became the organizations 2nd director after serving as associate director since 1969. After a sixteen year tenure, Mr. Jowers retired in 2001. “It was an opportunity to work in an agency that I knew would have a tremendous, positive impact on the Virgin Islands.” states Mr. Jowers. Under Jower’s leadership VICA provided numerous opportunities for Virgin Islands artists and arts organizations to exhibit and perform in the Virgin Islands and abroad. His enthusiasm and accomplishments are duly noted in ARTfusions’ 3rd edition.
Forty two years later, the “Virgin Islands Council for the Arts” continues to enable the development of artistic and cultural opportunities for our community. Today, VICA is a division of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. Its current director Ms. Betty Mahoney and her small staff work with a very minimal budget. They strive daily to meet the organizations mission: "To enrich the cultural life of the Virgin Islands through leadership that preserves, supports, strengthens, and makes accessible, excellence in the arts to all Virgin Islanders".
Additionally Ms. Mahoney collaborates closely with board members appointed by the Governor who broadly represent all fields of the performing and fine arts in the Virgin Islands. At this time, the board members include: Jose Raul Carrillo, Chairman; Claire Roker, Vice-Chair; Karen Thurland, Treasurer; Lucinda Schutt, Secretary; Vernon A. Finch, Glenn "Kwabena" Davis and Pastor Reuben A. Vessup.
Currently, one of VICA’s most significant programs for individual artists or non-profit organizations is its annual Grant Program. Funding categories vary from general operating support to individual support for artist projects. Grant awards start at $500 up to a maximum of, $10,000 per fiscal year. The grants provide the financial support that artists and art related organizations need to produce, promote and access the arts in the Virgin Islands and abroad. Funding is provided in part by the Virgin Islands Government and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Most recently, VICA has provided free exhibition space in their gallery room at 5070 Norre Gade, across from Fort Christian. Several innovative artists have exhibited at VICA’s gallery space, most notable are: Native Virgin Islands, folk artist Mabel J. Maduro, painters Ieshia George, Augustine Holder, Robert Chang, Madeleine Meehan and multi-media artist Henry Gonzalez.
Other significant programs co-sponsored by VICA along with other V.I. governmental agencies include: The Annual Congressional Art Competition, Poetry Our Loud, The Big Read and The Virgin Islands Aquatic Heritage Program.
VICA is a member of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies and the Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.
For further information go to their web sight at or visit VICA on St. Thomas at, 5070 Norre Gade, Charlotte Amalie, Tel. 340-774-5984 or on St. Croix at, 1131 King Street, Ste. 310, Christiansted, Tel. 340-773-3075.

The Art of Preserving Crucian History: A Chat with Gerville Larsen

Touring around St. Croix, one sees glimpses of abandoned structures in states of elegant decay. Strewn with vines, shutters tilting off hinges and colorful layers of peeling paint – many Caribbean artists are attracted to these atmospheric crumbling scenes as subject matter. But many of these ruins have potential for broader uses and renewed life.
Gerville Rene Larsen, A.I.A., is an accomplished local artist and architect from St. Croix, with a five-generation family history in the Virgin Islands. Gerville started his own architectural firm on St. Croix in 1999. He is active in preserving the VI’s historic places as a member of the St. Croix Historic Preservation Committee, and as the Virgin Islands Advisor to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Gerville is also a fine artist and gallery owner whose work has been exhibited throughout the U.S. and abroad. We asked him about his work renovating some of St. Croix’s historic edifices and his new artworks reflecting the subject.
CG: Where does your enthusiasm for historic preservation come from?
GL: The built environment around us has always fascinated and drawn me, especially growing up on St. Croix. Our two “planned” towns (Christiansted and Frederiksted) have an intimate scale and refined presence that is unique to the Virgin Islands and appropriate to our climate. The influence of Danish architecture and craftsmanship of our African predecessors are fused together to make the architecture on St. Croix distinctly and uniquely “Crucian”.
CG: Tell us about some of the historic preservation projects you've been working on, on St Croix.
GL: The Creagh Building, better known as the Old Chase Bank Building in Christiansted’s Sunday Market Square, is a great example of an historic renovation. Built around 1808, the townhouse presents an important anchoring facade in the square. It has been reallocated as a future business incubator and should provide economic stimulus to the area. This renovation exemplifies how preserved historic buildings can retain their worth and add value to our communities.
The Sion Farm Greathouse, tucked away behind Sunny Isles, is another full historic renovation we completed. This Greathouse dates back to 1756 and is now the official residence of the VI Lieutenant Governor.
Currently, I've started a restoration of 14 Strand Street, Frederiksted, an historic townhouse known locally as the Seven Flags Building.
CG: How does the island benefit from historic preservation? What's the goal/mission of the St. Croix Historic Preservation Committee?
GL: The built environment of our territory defines its history and is a cultural resource, according to both local and federal standards. Cultural tourism is a proven vehicle for economic growth throughout the world. By preserving authentic interior and exterior historic architecture, we ensure that our tourism and cultural product remains a valuable asset. The Preservation Committee’s goal is to ensure that our unique historic architecture is protected for us and for future generations. The Committee covers both the St. Croix and St. Thomas/St. John districts. It’s a regulatory body with legal territorial and federal enforcement powers.
CG: What prevents some of these projects from getting completed? What could be done to improve the situation?
GL: The biggest deterrent to historic preservation projects is financial. No one ever questions the high price tag attributed to an authentic Crucian mahogany four poster bed, but the same may not be true for the historic building that housed it! I recall reading how an authentic American mahogany secretary was auctioned for approximately $7 million, the sum of which was then used to restore a historic residence. We need more education and awareness, combined with cultural pride, to understand that these buildings and interior spaces crafted by our ancestors are uniquely valuable and tell our rich history.
CG: Gerville, your fine art work is visceral and organic. How does your personal art making reconcile with the energy you put into your architectural designs?
GL: They are somewhat opposing forces because they are very different disciplines. I’ve been an artist far longer than I’ve been an architect. I do attempt to merge them -- some of my paintings are three dimensional in texture and form. My present study explores the plight of dilapidated vernacular wooden structures in danger of eradication. I’m treating these edifices as “people”, victims of crime that have been violated and abandoned and are in desperate need of love and attention. I hope this collection will not only invoke the physical presence of the structures but will also describe their makers and builders.
Gerville can be reached at the offices of Taller Larjas, LLC at (340) 779-3039 or online at

ARTfusion Magazine

is a full color, glossy magazine dedicated to the arts and culture of the U.S. Virgin Islands. It seeks to provide our readers access to an extensive range of activities within the arts. It's aim is to offer a view of the arts that transcends any one discipline, and in effect provide a means of accessing the arts and culture in the Virgin Islands and the greater Caribbean region.