Catherine Oxenberg and Treasures of Russia

Fourteen Picture Photo Spread

Photographs By Laura Deni

FAMILY LEGACY. At the age of 4, Princess Elizabeth (Catherine's mother), the youngest of three children, was exiled to Kenya with her parents - the late Prince Paul and Princess Olga of Yugoslavia - following the 1941 coup in Yugoslavia. Catherine's mother met her father, businessman Howard Oxenberg on the ski slopes of Austria, eloping with him at the age of 23. Following Elizabeth's divorce from Oxenberg, Catherine, who was born Sept. 22, 1961 in New York City, and her sister and mother moved to London. Oxenberg played Amanda on Dynasty, a show which she says her mother's second counsin, Prince Charles of England "absolutely loves." Catherine told me that, in viewing the Treasures of Russia, marked the first time she had ever seen the treasures which had once belonged to her family.

CHANTICLEER EGG. Among only 44 existing Faberge eggs in the world, this monumental egg in the French neo-classic style is, after the Uspensky cathedral Egg of 1904, the largest Faberge Easter egg known today. All Faberge eggs contain surprises. The surprise contained beneath a gold grille atop the egg, is a naturalistically enameled Chanticleer (rooster). which emerges automatically, bobbing its head and flapping its wings to crow the hour. Presented by Czar Nicholas II to his mother, Dowager Empress Marie Feodorovna on Easter 1903. It is made from two-color gold, enamel, diamonds and pearls. The height is 12 5/8 inches when open. The key is the origional. While most of the treasures shown in the exhibit are borrowed from the Palace of Peterhof, the Chanticlear egg is on loan from the prestigious Forbes Magazine Collection in New York.

CATHERINE'S daughter, India, points to the Chanticleer Egg while she is held up to the viewing window by Los Angeles based Jeffrey Kowalczyk, vice president of promotions and developmentt for Year 2 K Communications, which has the Rio hotel as a client. Catherine gives her daughter a history of their family.

While walking from one priceless treasure to the next, India played with plastic Marti Gras beads.The Rio Hotel features Masquerade Parades in which customers along with 36 costumed performers, ride fantasy floats as they glide above the casino crowd in five different themed parades.. Plastic beads are thrown to bystanders, who tend to treasure them as if they were priceless. India and her mother enjoyed that before coming to the exhibit. Catherine told me that her most prized treasure is her daughter, confessing; "I'd like to have another baby right away."

CORONATION THRONES of Peter the Great (1682-1725) which has never been seen outside of Russia, Empress Maira Alexandrovna and Nicholas II (1894-1917). The exhibit also includes; The Coronation Book of Empress Alexander 111 (1881-94) and Empress Maria Alexandrovna, never before exhibited; The Potsdam Goblet; The nightshirt Paul 1 (1796-1801) was wearing the night he was murdered. Never seen outside of Russia, the garment still has blood stains.

THE EXHIBIT gives a comprehensive look at the legacy of the 200-year Romanov dynasty, featuring collections of paintings, porcelains, tapestries, furniture, jewerly, gowns and religious artifacts. Paintings on displays include those of Grand Princess Alexandra and Maria which have never been seen in America

AWE-STRUCK - Catherine Oxenberg provided a fascinating commentary on her family's history. Catherine the Great was actually born in Poland and left to marry Czar Peter 111, who was later killed in an overthrow at her command. She was then crowned Empress of All Russia. "I was named for her," said Oxenberg, "so I've always had an affinity for her." As she viewed the various exhibits she's say -- "Oh, I remember reading about that in my grandmother's diary!" When we passed the recreation of the Train Car of the Abdication of Nicholas 11, Catherine told her daughter an interesting account of how the her female ancesters survived. "She was determined. She'd sewn her jewels in the hems of her clothes." Jeffrey Kowalczyk quipped, "Do you do that Catherine?" The actress waved her left hand to show off the hugh diamond she was wearing and replied, "I like to flaunt mine!"

THE FULL DRESS UNIFORM of Peter the Great is on display as well as magnificent costumes of Emperors Peter 1, Peter 111, Alexander 1, Nicolas 11 as well as other members of the royal family. During this time period the Russian Orthodox Church viewed hair as a gift from God, not to be cut. Contrary to this, Peter the Great forced his subjects to shave their beards and in fact levied heavily taxes for such "beard-wearing." Likewise, he forced his courtiers to smoke tobacco -a very European custom at the time.

THE WHITE BANQUETING HALL features the largest display of porcelain, including table settings from The Imperial Porcelain Factory; the "Husk Service," the royal dining setting commissioned by Catherine the Great from the famous English ceramist Josiah Wedgwood. With more than 350 pieces of porcelain, the display includes the Guryev Service, the most magnificant of Russian porcelain; The Ropsha Service; and The Batenin Service.

INDIA is a charming, well behaved 7-year-old, who spent two hours with her mother viewing all of the exhibits. She gazed with interest and listened thoughtfully as her mother described the history of the artifacts they were both viewing for the first time. "I hope she's not too young to remember this," worried Catherine. "I'm going to keep reminding her of this."

CATHERINE told me that her ancestors had purchased two castles with their own money - the palaces confiscated by the government. There was even a diamond mine. "I would love to have that back,"she exclaimed. "My mother still has some of the most gorgeous dinnerware, it's solid gold and some sauce pots which are white with gold leaves." As for herself, Catherine said her own dinnerware is from Italy.

GRACING the gallery's entrance, an exquisite black coral sculpture of Peter the Great was created by Bernard K. Passman. Worth over $1 million, the figure's head and hands are crafted in 24 k gold, and the body and armor is accented with rare black coral, platinum, diamonds, pearls, pink gold and rubies. Passman told me there are 1,400 pieces in the creation which took four months to complete. His works have been on display worldwide, including such prestigious private art collections as the Pope and Prince Charles.

ARTIST Bernard K. Passman, now a resident of New Orleans, is a great admirer of Peter the Great. "The ruler was nearly seven feet tall at a time when the average height for a man was 5 feet,. 6 inches. He was a wonderful man. He was passionate about Western culture. He not only visited the West, but worked there. Traveling incognito, he spent several months laboring in Dutch and English dockyards. He's the person responsible for the wedding kiss. He raised women's standing by declaring that they did not have to remain in seclusion and permitted them to be present with the men at dinners and special occasions. He also changed the "wielding whip" cermony at weddings, and replacing it with a kiss. Prior to that, the groom was presented with a whip - for him to use to beat his wife should she forget to "obey."

NINA VEMOVA, the attractive vice director of the State Museum Reserve-Peterhof in Russia, was instrumental in setting up the Treasures of Russia displays. She graciously showed Catherine many of the priceless items. Tickets to attend this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition at the Rio Hotel, Las Vegas can be purchased over the Internet. The Rio Hotel reports that responses have been received from Germany, England, France, Russia and the Ukraine.

Return to article