TAMPA — Some little girls get dolls for their birthdays, Kathy Durdin’s parents bought her antique chairs and a Louis XVI bed.
As a kid in Lakeland, she cut out magazine ads with photographs of gold, bejeweled Faberge eggs made for the tsars as Easter gifts. She studied the memoirs of Marie, Grand Duchess of Russia and watched every episode of the 1991 television miniseries Young Catherine, based on the early life of Catherine II.
Fast forward and the self-employed CPA, leadership development consultant and coach will tell you her childhood fascination grew into owning, "one of the largest collections of Russian decorative objects in the U.S.," hundreds of artifacts from pre- Catherine the Great through the fall of the Romanov Empire.
Durdin is sharing a portion of her treasures with the Henry B. Plant Museum in a exhibition called Imperial Designs: From the Habsburg’s Herend to the Romanov’s Fabergé, opening Friday (March 23).
As guest curator, Durdin worked with executive director Cynthia Gandee Zinober and museum staff to display more than 200 items as if they might have been seen by Margaret and Henry B. Plant on their travels through Europe at the turn of the 20th century.
What might they have acquired for the Tampa Bay Hotel when they visited the Paris Expo of 1889 and marveled at the Eiffel Tower? Did they buy Herend china for the grand dining room? Was it similar to the pattern Durdin owns that was made for the Royal Palace of Gödöllo?
"We know from a hotel guest’s letter that she was served dessert on Herend china," Durdin said. "We don’t know what pattern or what happened to it."
Visitors will see brooches, jewelry and exquisite enamelware among the wealthy royals’ personal effects, and the opulent china and porcelain used aboard their yachts. Also pieces from a circa-1883 Raphael porcelain service with allegorical figures inspired by the frescoes painted by renaissance artist Raphael in the Vatican.
"It’s a taste of what you’d see at the Hermitage and other St. Petersburg, Russia museums," Durdin said. "They’ll be blown away."
Durdin points to a cherished favorite: the Durnovo Casket, a gift to Ivan Nikolaevich Durnovo, a top Russian official in 1889. More than a foot long, enameled silver gilt openwork covers sheets of lapis lazuli in the Old Russian Style.
"It was one of the few pieces I bought on my own, without a dealer. Which I don’t recommend because there are so many fakes out there."
Durdin became a serious collector when the management consultant firm she co-owned was sold in 1998. She used some of her share of the proceeds to buy her first Fabergé, a gold on gold cigarette case bearing the monogram of Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich.
"I vowed if I ever had any money I would buy a piece of Fabergé," said the Hyde Park resident and an award-winning watercolorist.
"It became really addicting," Durdin said. "I was really lucky in that I found a great dealer and did most of my buying in the early 2000s before the Russians started buying it and the prices got really ridiculous."
Contact Amy Scherzer at [email protected]