Dana Oland: Experience the genius of Leonardo da Vinci

The Discovery Center of Idaho opens an exhibit that's world-class

doland@idahostatesman.comJune 13, 2014 

  • The details

    What: "Leonardo da Vinci: Man-Inventor-Genius" and "Man-Artist-Genius."

    When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays (through Labor Day). The exhibit runs June 14 to Nov. 29.

    Online: dcidaho.org

    Cost: $15 general, $3 members, $10 ages 3 to 17 and 65 and older, free for 2 and younger.

He was one of the most brilliant creative minds in history. He was one of the leaders of the Renaissance, considered one of the most creative periods in history. It was a time when the worlds of science and art came together and made huge leaps forward as people rediscovered the culture, art and history of the Greeks and Romans.

Leonardo da Vinci embodied the spirit and creativity of that time like no other figure. His remarkable paintings are some of the most revered in the world; his machines became the basis for many of our modern devices; his studies helped change our perception and understanding of the natural world.

You can explore da Vinci starting June 14 at the Discovery Center of Idaho: "Leonardo da Vinci: Man-Inventor-Genius." Its companion, "Man-Artist-Genius," will be on display through Nov. 29.

The opening will coincide with the debut of DCI's new entryway, designed by artist Eve-Marie Bergren and other area artists and artisans.

"Da Vinci was the quintessential engineer," says John Gardner, a mechanical engineering professor at Boise State University and director of the Energy Efficiency Research Institute. "And he was an engineer with a level of creativity that engineers today don't always embrace. There's a need for that now."

Da Vinci was born near the town of Vinci, Italy, in 1452; he died in 1519. A painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, botanist, inventor and more, he was the ultimate observer. He soaked up the ideas, events and motifs of his day and translated them into art and design that continues today.

The exhibit features more than 60 of da Vinci's inventions - war, flying and hydraulic machines, and mechanical devices - and more than 20 of his most famous paintings.

The models were built by EMS-Entertainment, a company based in Vienna, Austria, in collaboration with the Niccolai family in Florence. The Niccolais are highly skilled craftsmen who have passed on their passion for da Vinci's inventions through three generations. So far, they have built 150 different models based on da Vinci's sketches found in his codices and historical documents.

The machines at DCI are made of wood, metal, fabric and rope, the same materials da Vinci would have used in his day. Some of them, such as a machine that dredged the canals of Venice, were built in da Vinci's lifetime; most were not.

"These were just things coming out of his mind," says Philip Zoch, an exhibit designer who is installing the show. "Many things they didn't have a way to build back then."

For example, a tank that he designed for battle.

"His idea was that there were horses inside to power it. Now, we can have a tank with as much horsepower as we need inside with an engine," Zoch says. "And it works."

You'll see some of da Vinci's most famous inventions, including the bicycle and the air screw; the latter was re-created with some success on the "MythBusters" TV show in 2010.

Da Vinci experimented with gears, cogwheels, screws, pulleys, chains, water and horse power, and other devices that were inspired by rediscovering the technology of the Ancients that fueled the Renaissance. He also took the designs of other inventors and engineers and perfected them.

"He doesn't always create new but he did it better," Zoch says. "Now we use many of the parts he imagined every day."

About 30 percent of the models are hands-on. Patrons can turn handles, move cogs and make them work.

The exhibit opened in 2006 at the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago. Since then it has shown at science centers and museums around the globe.

In 2007, EMS added computer simulations created by the University of Applied Arts in Vienna that explain the relationship between the original sketches, the models and today's technology.

Just last year the company added a web-based media enhancement process. When you buy your ticket you'll receive a QR code that will allow you access to Fluxguide, a secure website that will provide you with a guided tour of the exhibit. It's filled with videos, images of da Vinci's drawings and history. (Bring a headset).

It also will allow you to interact with the information through social media.

Each month the exhibit runs, DCI will focus on a different theme: battle machines (June), transportation (July), genius and mathematical relationships (August), invention (September), perception (October) and mechanics (November).

"Each time you come, you'll be able to learn something different," says DCI Executive Director Kristin Barney.

For adults, the center has created a series of discussions by artists, engineers and scientists, called "Da Vinci Dialogues," with topics that center on genius and invention in our world today.

"I hope this exhibit will inspire a conversation about what it means to create and to innovate," Barney says.

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