Friday is Art Night on Lahaina's Front Street. Over the years we have met and conversed with world-famous artists, including Robert Lyn Nelson, whose marine life paintings are legendary. We've also spent "quality time" with the Italian Twins, Alessio and Marcello Bugagiar, whose exquisite work we greatly admire.
On this special Art Night, there was only one artist we wanted to see--the one who, 20 years ago, had invited each of our two little girls to place a leaf on one of his impressionist paintings. By prearrangement, we arrived at Sargents Fine Art where Roman was waiting to greet us.
It's hard to explain, but the three of us felt an immediate bond, as if the intervening years had collapsed into days. We gathered in a small, private showroom to share memories and update our life stories. Then, Roman told us about the painting and what it meant to him.
The sunflowers recalled his childhood in Poland, playing football while rubbing the golden flowers in the palms of his hands to free and eat the seeds. The bright red vase reminded him of the Solidarity Movement that toppled the Communist regime in his native country--being the first of many dominoes to fall in Eastern Europe by 1989. Roman told of his days as one of many unarmed student activists, who occupied his university buildings, facing down a powerful, teargas-tossing militia. He signs his paintings in red, because Czerwinski means 'red' in Polish. He spoke in a reverent tone of being present at Pope John Paul II's 1979 speech. Employing what has been called "soft power," the pope told the crowds, "Be not afraid." Roman interpreted the message as, "Follow your heart." A year later the Solidarity Movement became a force for freedom. Truly, a David vs. Goliath.
For our part, we shared our emotional 2010 visit to the very shipyard in Gdansk, where dockworker Lech Walesa led a strike that--after much suffering--succeeded in overcoming the regime. Walesa went on to become president of the newly free Poland.
During the hour we spent together, we came to see that our friend Roman is not only a great artist, but a deeply spiritual, caring, and generous man. As we were parting, I told him that I felt a strong fraternal connection between us.
Czerwinski's "Fresh Bouquet" now occupies an honored place in our home.
[Note: Our reunion with Roman Czerwinski took place on August 17, 2012.]
See also: http://www.sargentsfineart.com/artist/roman.php
Alfred J. Garrotto is the author of The Saint of Florenville: A Love Story
(c) 2012 by Alfred J. Garrotto